I Didn’t See That Coming

Four years ago this week, I had just gotten my surgery date to undergo gastric bypass. Yesterday morning, I got up before dawn and made my way in Downtown Richmond with 19,000+ other runners, and a untold number of cheering spectators. I arrived just at the end of team photos, which I didn’t really care whether I was in or not, and walked around the Capital Square in the pre-dawn gloom looking for familiar faces.

All the weather prediction sites called for a 20% chance of showers. They were off by about 80%. It was a light drizzle for a while, until it became a frog strangler just in time for the 8k racers to take off. There was ankle deep water running down the gutters at one point. I had planned accordingly and grabbed a trash bag on my way out the door, so I was mostly sheltered under my plastic covering and a hat. At the expo, the day before, I had found a pair of neon green arm warmers for $10, and I bought them. They were the best $10 I have spent in a while. I was glad to have them. Nothing to be done for my feet; I would run with wet feet.

Like last year, I stood near the 8k start line to cheer those runners on, listened to the National Anthem and the energy of the day and the song got to me a bit. I love the emotions that get tied into the beginning of a race, but at least it was raining hard enough that no one could tell tears from rain drops. I walked up and down Broad Street in the rain in search of Mary Beth or Matt, two runners I knew in the half marathon, or anyone else that I happened to know. I did eventually find Matt in my own corral and was introduced to an old friend of his named Terry. It was nice to say hi to them, but I really really wanted to find Mary Beth to thank her for giving me this opportunity. I never found her in the crowd, even though she was in the corral just in front of mine. I only saw her once on Brookland Park while she was going back to Hermitage, while I hadn’t reached the turn-around yet.

My plan had been to use that amazing energy of the beginning of the race to close the gap between my corral and the 2:30 pace corral ahead of me. Unsurprisingly, this did not happen. Two minutes is actually a very long time on foot, and that was the time gap between corrals. I started as close to the very front of my corral (2:31-2:59 anticipated finish time group) and took off as soon as I hit the starting line. I still managed to maintain some control and managed not to blow myself up in the first mile.

The first 2.25 miles of the race are dull as rain, and the only really interesting thing is the signs the spectators carry and looking at the many thousands of people ahead of you in the human snake heading west on Broad Street. Also, watching the elite marathoners pass you is pretty humbling.

Last year, I ran into trouble on Boulevard overpass over the train tracks and I had vowed that this year, that hill would not leave me struggling so much. I controlled my ascent, took the decent easy, and conquered that hill, unlike last year. That said, the steep downhill set my left knee to aching, a theme that would follow me for the next 10 miles.

The Boulevard/Hermitage/Brookland Park miles were uneventful. The only thing of note was that I felt suddenly depleted very early and regretted not eating anything before the race. I took a GU a (Salted Caramel flavor, FTW!) at the 3 mile point, much earlier than planned, but it offered the relief I needed. I would also regret bringing only 2 GUs with me later. I hit Bryan Park, my least favorite stretch of the race at the 1 hour mark and hit the 10k mark at 1:09. That might be my fastest 10k time yet.

Right after the 10k mark, the wheels came off for a while. To give you some background, I have been hopping from one ailment to the next for 4 weeks. I had the flu, strep, then a head cold, which morphed into a sinus infection that was working its way towards an upper respiratory infection as of this week. I saw the doctor on Friday and had a Z-pack waiting for me to start immediately after the race. I was going between Dayquil, Nyquil, and behind-the-counter pseudoephedrine all week. The Sudafed would dehydrate me terribly, but on race day I opted to take one because I was just so miserable. Well, right after the 10k point, I discovered I was badly dehydrated and at the same time, the Sudafed that I had taken about 4 hours earlier had kicked out.

I stopped sweating. My head was thumping. My face was on fire but my body was shivering. I felt feverish and weakening. Being only the halfway point of the race, this was a very scary feeling. When I hit the party zone in the park, I wasn’t sure I would finish. I contemplated asking for help, but pride and (I know how this sounds) the race medal kept me silent. When I hit the 7 mile point, I walked for 2 or 3 minutes and took on 2 cups of water plus a Powerade. And I vowed to keep going.

The water helped immensely. At every water stop after that, I grabbed two waters and a Powerade. At the 8 mile marker, I grabbed an AccelGel and tucked it under my sports bra strap as a just-in-case, knowing they tended to have an adverse affect on me, but knowing I might need the extra energy. It was the spectators on Pope and Fauquier Avenues that really kept me going during those rough few miles there. I was in awe of their excitement and their willingness to come cheer us on in the crummy weather. It kept bringing my mind back to Boston and the fact that the dead and injured there were almost exclusively spectators. That made me even more grateful for their presence.

I took my second GU on Brook Road at Mile 9 or so. I had gone too long between gels so the effect of the second one was particularly noticeable. Brook Road felt like forever, just as always. It always, whether in training or racing, feels like a blessing to turn on Lombardy after the long stretch on Brook. Still, when I hit the 10 mile marker, which is celebrated with a “5k Fun Run Race” sign and lots of cheering spectators, any darkness in my mind was dispelled and pure joy replaced it. This was FUN!

Of course, this also hurt and I still had at least 30 minutes left to go, but none of that mattered. I was ready to go. On Lombardy, by the Kroger Store, I heard sirens behind me and knew that the leading marathoners were catching up. It is an awe inspiring thing to see a man run past you, a man who has run about 24 miles so far, who left about 10 minutes after you did, and only has a little more than 2 miles to go. We cheered for him and for the others that would pass us. The turn onto Grace was especially well-cheered. I thanked as many of the spectators for coming out as I could.

And I ran. Oh my goodness but it is a LONG way between Lombardy and 3rd Street. Turns seem to make the distance pass more swiftly. Grace to Third, Third to Franklin. On Franklin, a band was playing “Lonely Boy” by the Black Keys and I started singing it out loud. I didn’t care. I love that song. Coach John, the Big Cooter, met me between 4th and 5th Streets and asked how it was going (he knew about the IT injury). I told him I had been suffering for a while, but I was not quitting now. He ran with me to 5th, encouraged me to take it easy going down the hill on 5th Street to Browns Island because steep downhills are IT killers, and I promised (knowing I was lying) to take it slow.

Onto 5th Street, the last turn until the finish line. All downhill. I was overwhelmed with excitement, hope of seeing my family, and the feeling that things weren’t as bad as they had seemed about 6 miles ago. I had no clue what my time was; I left my watch at home. I let the downhill take me and started going all out.

It is a surprisingly long way between Franklin and Tredegar. I ran and ran and ran and wondered when the heck this would end. I looked for my family, but once I hit the MeadWestVaco building, the going was too steep and the runners in front of me too slow for me to do anything other than watch where I put my feet. I sprinted down the hill in a gut churning effort to cross the finish line. I remember raising my hands over my head at a point where I thought my photo was being taken. I crossed two lines; I am not sure which actually marked my finish point, but I didn’t stop hauling ass until I was underneath the finish line structure. And then very happily, I slowed to a trundle, wondering how long it would be until I had a medal in my hand.

I received my medal, but then I realized it was water that I wanted more, though I was too queasy to drink too much. I received my fleece blanket, which I gratefully wrapped up in, and made my way to the food tent, because there is nothing better than a slice of cheese pizza after a race.

I waited for my family at our appointed spot, but due to bad luck, they had not seen me cross the finish and had no idea I was done. It was about 40 minutes and a borrowed phone call later before we were reunited.

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I had no idea what my time was and I wasn’t stressed about it. I simply didn’t care for the time being. I figured it was around 2:40 to 2:45 and I was good with that, especially after the awful 3 mile stretch between Bryan Park and the 10 mile mark. Once reunited, we went over to Legend for a post-race beer and soft pretzel. My knee hurt very badly and did not want to bend; I had anticipated this, but it still hurt a good deal. I limped home, content with my day.

Of course, later I became curious about my actual finish time. It was late in the day before the results were posted, so the anticipation had a lot of time to build.

I am not kidding when I say I was completely shocked to see that my finish time was 2:35:37. That is 6 minutes faster than any of my previous races. No, it wasn’t the 2:30 I am dreaming of beating, but I hadn’t even dreamed that this race would be faster when I had been sick for so long, and injured to boot.

I remain overjoyed by the time I managed to achieve. It was such an amazing day. I cannot say enough good things about the volunteers and the spectators. I love this race and I plan to run it again next year, though I am contemplating running the full distance (albeit, not too seriously). I could not have done this without the support of my Crew and my FaceBook friends, and even the random people who cheered my by name (from my bib) throughout the race. I am grateful to have the chance to even attempt such distances and I look forward to future accomplishments.

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