“My feet is my only carriage, so I’ve got to push on through…”
2020 Richmond Marathon Race Report
4:13:12 (9:40 min/mile)
36/61 AG 317/912 Overall
November 21, 2020 – Thanks to Covid, all of my triathlons had been cancelled in 2020, including my trip to Milwaukee for Age Group Nationals. I signed up for a few (Olympic distance) virtual races through Ironman to stay motivated, but it just wasn’t the same. Ironman announced a full-distance virtual race in October, and I toyed with the idea of doing that for a few weeks until I was talked out of it since I wasn’t in 140.6 shape. Eventually, I learned that Sportsbackers was putting on the Richmond Marathon as a quasi-live event on the Capital Trail. I hadn’t run a standalone marathon since 2016, so on a whim, I decided to sign up.
That decision didn’t come until October, with the race looming in November. I’d been training consistently during Covid, but I wasn’t trained up for 26.2 miles. I figured though, that I could get myself ready with a solid month of training, which was stupid decision number 1. Stupid decision number 2 was thinking that I should try to PR by beating my time of 3:48:01 from 2016, which I’d run a month after completing Ironman Maryland (and being in really good shape to go long). Stupid decision number 3 was targeting 3:45:00. I’m not sure why I thought that was doable, so I guess I’ll just blame the Covid crazies.
I escalated my long runs pretty quickly, and had done a few 15 milers and one 19 miler by the end of October. Still, I just wasn’t getting enough weekly mileage in, even counting my long runs. Busher was doing a virtual marathon in his neighborhood on November 7th, so I decided to run a large portion of it with him as his support crew. Between running at my house that morning and running with Busher in the afternoon, I did 20 total miles and felt pretty good. The next morning when I woke up, though, it felt like I’d been beaten with a 2×4 on the left side of my rib cage. I have no idea what happened, but for a week I was in severe pain and couldn’t work out at all. If I moved wrong, I’d have a sharp pain, and even sleeping was difficult.
I didn’t workout again until November 14th, when I did 6.5 slow miles with moderate pain in my ribs. At that point, I didn’t even know if I’d be able to race. The pain was slowly improving, but the race was only a week away. It was going to be a game-time decision. I continued to improve over the next week, but still refrained from working out. The night before the race, after a Covid scare that left me in limbo as to whether I’d be able to race until about 8 p.m., I decided to give it a go. Coach Karen agreed to ride her bike with me on the Capital Trail as my support crew, so at least I wouldn’t be alone.
The marathon started at Dorey Park, and then there was a long out and back on the Capital Trail. The turnaround point was just after mile 12, and then you’d come back to the Dorey Park entrance just before mile 24. There was then a short out and back in the other direction, before running back into the park. There would be some self-serve aid stations along the way, but I’d given Karen some Powerade and gels to put in her backpack to carry for me.
The weather was abnormally warm for late November, and was supposed to get into the high 60’s. I was in shorts and a tank top, and met Karen at Dorey Park around 8:15 a.m. By the time that I got my bib, hit the portapotty and was ready to take off, it was about 8:45 a.m.
A 3:45 marathon equates to about an 8:35 min/mile average. I wanted to run the first three miles pretty conservatively, somewhere near a 9 minute pace, and then descend from there. The course was mostly downhill during that stretch though, so I knew that I really needed to run a tad faster at the beginning.
Miles 1-3 (8:45)(8:50)(8:43)
Since the 8k, the half marathon and the marathon shared the same course, the beginning of the race was relatively crowded on the Capital Trail. The going was pretty easy early on, particularly since it was mostly downhill. Karen stayed a bit ahead of me on her bike, and thankfully, I wasn’t feeling any pain in my left side (for the first time since I’d injured myself). So far, so good.
Miles 4-6 (8:38)(8:44)(8:34)
After passing the three mile mark, I accelerated just a tad to try to move down towards my 8:35 goal pace. The crowd on the trail thinned out quite a bit after the 8k turnaround point, but there were still a decent amount of people around. I took a gel around mile 4.5, and continued to sip Powerade from my handheld bottle to stay hydrated. After 6 miles, I was still feeling really good.
Miles 7-9 (8:40)(8:24)(8:40)
By mile 7, the first signs of mild fatigue were beginning to set in, but nothing major. I still felt good and was on track with my pacing. Mile 8 was my fastest of the day at 8:24 thanks to another downhill portion, but there was a bit of a climb in mile 9, which slowed me down. By that point, the half-marathon folks had turned around, so it was getting pretty sparse and lonely out on the trail. I wasn’t overly fatigued, but I was missing the crowd support for sure. It really would have been lonely without Karen pacing me on her bike.
Miles 10-12 (8:29)(8:44)(8:32)
As I began to near the half-way point, I could definitely feel the fatigue creeping in on me. I still felt like there was a chance of making my goal pace, but the first doubts were coming on. I kept this to myself and continued moving foward. The turnaround point came just after mile 12, so there was a huge mental boost in knowing that I was headed back towards Dorey Park.
Miles 13-15 (8:40)(8:29)(8:31)
I hit the halfway point not long after turning around and told Karen for the first time that I was beginning to struggle. I told her that I felt like I was at mile 18 instead of 13, and she “encouraged” me to suck it up and keep going. Even though I wasn’t feeling great, I was still able to maintain my pace, but doing so was getting harder and harder.
Miles 16-18 (8:37)(9:17)(9:36)
I kept it together through mile 16, but there was a fairly long climb in mile 17 that brought it all crashing down on me. I’d kept my pace up longer than I thought I could, but halfway up a hill I gave out and started walking. This took Karen by surprise and she said something like, “hell no, keep running.” I got back to trotting, but not at the pace I’d been making before I began walking. Mile 18 was even worse – my quads were just giving out on me. To top things off, I started getting nauseous as well. It had gotten hotter than the forecast anticipated, and I was getting really overheated. I’d been drinking a fair amount of Powerade, but for some reason, I was starting to get repulsed by it. I was thirsty, but was having a tough time wanting to drink it. A full-on blow up was about to ensue.
Miles 19-21 (9:39)(10:46)(12:15)
I continued to run into mile 19, albeit at a reduced pace. Still, I was running sub-10 minute miles, which would have led to a pretty decent time if I’d been able to continue that way to the finish. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Karen had dropped behind me a bit on her bike since she was talking on her cell phone to one of her daughters. At mile 19.7 I took a swig of Powerade and then immediately began vomiting on the side of the trail. It was only liquid coming up, but when that ran out I began to dry heave. I rallied and began to run some more, but then got sick twice more within the next mile or so. The proverbial shit had hit the fan.
By mile 21 I had ballooned to more than 12 minute miles and was reduced to a walk/run. I would run for a couple of hundred yards, then my body would revolt, so I’d have to walk for 30 seconds or so. I was really overheated and really thirsty, but just thinking about taking in more Powerade made me nauseous. Thankfully, Karen had some water in her bag, and I was able to drink some of that and keep it down. Not enough to re-hydrate, but it was better than nothing.
Miles 22-24 (12:29)(11:58)(12:33)
It was a slow trudge back to the Dorey Park entrance, and then I had to run past the park on a short out and back. I told Karen that she could leave me, and I really felt bad that I was taking so long and holding her up. I think she was worried that I could go even more sideways at any moment, so she stayed with me to make sure I could finish. The last 10k was a total shit show.
Miles 25-26 (12:06)(12:18)
The last part of the course was back to the east again to Dorey Park, and then into the park to the finish line. As bad as I felt, I was at least able to keep running somewhat, and my pace was stable around 12 minute miles. As you can see from the heart rate chart below, my HR was the highest at the end of the race when I was running the slowest and maxed out a 198. That pretty much tells the tale of the dire straits I was in after things went sideways on me.
Eventually I found myself back in Dorey Park with the finish line in sight. There was no finishing kick in this race, only a slow trudge across the finish line and hanging my head in utter defeat. In the end, I finished in 4:13:12 – nearly 30 minutes off of my goal time. I was hot and bothered, and wondering where it all went wrong.
In hindsight, I think a lot of factors went into my explosion in this race. First and foremost, I was undertrained for a marathon. I decided to run it very late in the game, and simply did not have enough weekly mileage to run the race I wanted. I had some good long runs for sure, but not enough total mileage.
Second, I not only decided to shoot for a PR, I decided to shoot for a time about 3 minutes faster than my PR. That decision, coupled with mistake #1 above made for a bad time.
Third, I injured myself a few weeks before the race and hadn’t been able to run pain-free until race day. While the injury didn’t affect me on race day, it definitely cut down my training, and probably my mental state as well.
Lastly, it was too hot to run a marathon well. The forecast called for high 60’s, but it got into the low to mid-70’s on race day. I’d take that any day of the week for a triathlon, but not for a standalone marathon where I’m trying to PR.
Looking back, its easy to see where it all went wrong, but sometimes you just have to live and learn. I’d forgotten just how hard a marathon was, and I took my ability to run one well for granted. After the dust settled, I planned to shoot for a PR at the half marathon distance in the Spring. That attempt would go slightly better.