Posts Tagged ‘race’

The Richmond Marathon

It’s been a few days now. Nothing on me hurts anymore. My legs still feel tired, but not bruised. I am not going to lose any toenails.

One of the things the Marathon Training Team coaches encouraged us to do was to write down our race experience soon after the race because it would fade quickly. Nothing I write down could do the event justice, but maybe my words here will help me hold on to those little moments that were so special. I have been building this write up for a few days.

Saturday morning was cold and dark to start, and it never really would warm up, but it did turn out to be a perfectly blue, crisp, bright autumn day. Byram dropped me near the Capitol a little after 6:30 and I watched as the sun rose slowly over the City. The training teams all gathered for a chaotic photo on the Capitol steps and then we disbanded into our smaller units. I joined Team Pink Nation for our final Benediction. Coach Blair spoke briefly, but focused on the gratitude we should feel to even have this opportunity. Not everyone gets to do this. Running 26 miles is a privilege.

He was right.

They say over and over to never do anything different on race day than you did on your longest training run. Well, that was problematic; my 20 miler was run with temperatures in the 70s. The Richmond Marathon coincided with our first “Arctic Blast” this year and it was 29 at 6:30 that morning. I had “charity” clothing to shed at the starting line, but I wouldn’t be able to run just wearing my team singlet. My arm warmers disappeared, so I decided the night before to wear my long sleeved technical fiber shirt, with the singlet over it. Another benefit of running with MTT was the clothing drop station they had at Mile 2, so I wore my running jacket for the first 2 miles without having to worry about donating a not cheaply replaced article of clothing. I also purchased a pair of $2 throw away gloves at the Expo with the intention of shedding them once I was warmed up.

I was warm enough while waiting for the race to start, except for frozen toes. Nothing to be done for that and my toes did warm up eventually. I was concerned that I would wind up too warm at some point during the day and would have to lose the green long sleeved shirt, but that never happened. In fact, I never shed the gloves either. The only times I felt nice and warm were when I was in the sun. It was really cold in the shade all day long.

So the race itself. I found Pink coaches and some ladies I knew who ran a pace I wanted (I was looking for 12:00 min/mile averages for the start). I introduced myself and we all ran together for the first 4 miles, at which point Coach Judy had to peel off to meet us later on Forest Hill Avenue. MTT coaches are spread out throughout the course to keep an eye on the team and give encouragement where necessary. This is why you wear the team shirt on race day, so you can be identified and assisted as needed.

The first 2 miles are so boring but it was nice to have company and chat along the way. There were some good signs, and lots of spectators. I have run the Half twice now, but this was the first time I have ever turned Left on the Boulevard, not Right, like the Half route. It was kind of cool to make that turn away from what is familiar. I shed my jacket as planned at the clothes drop and the next two miles were spent still chatting with the other ladies. After Coach Judy departed at mile 4, the group I was with began dispersing. It was time to run Our race.

Now the first memorable moment occurred around mile 4.5.  We had just made the turn from Westmoreland Street onto Grove Avenue, where there was a huge cheering section and a lot of familiar faces from MTT in the crowd. They were giving high fives and I was taking them, and smiling and enjoying the moment when I saw a familiar face who is NOT associated with MTT.
Bart Yasso.

He was giving out high fives and cheering the racers, and you bet I got a high five. That was a pretty cool moment.

That excitement carried me along Grove. At the Starbucks near Libbie, I saw a coworker who I thought had been in the race, but he was drinking coffee and cheering us on. I don’t know why I thought he was racing, but he wasn’t. It was cool to see a familiar face and he cheered me on.

We then turned onto the only portion of the course that I had never run on before; Maple to Cary Street. This was a nice downhill area for the most part and it was nice to see a new-to-me part of town (from on foot, anyway).

The party zone before the Huguenot Bridge was fun, but I was gearing myself up for the Bridge. Now, I like the Huguenot Bridge as much as I dislike the Lee Bridge. It was beautiful crossing the River and most importantly, there was no shade and the sun was nice and warm. It was picture perfect. And it was the only spot on the course where I made a minor mistake. I had been trying to cut the corners (or vectors) and was positioning myself on the route to stick tight to turns and I had assumed that we would follow the right side ramp off of the Bridge and down onto Riverside Drive, so I ran on the right side of the Bridge. Only to discover that the route took us down the ramp on the left side of the Bridge. Not a huge deal, but I essentially ran across all 4 lanes of  Huguenot Bridge twice. Oops.

Riverside Drive is hands down the most beautiful part of the course. I hit 8 miles just at the end of the ramp and took my first GU as planned. I felt amazing. I know this will sound a little silly, but at one point, a perfect yellow maple leaf fell from a tree, and it landed perfectly in my right hand; I didn’t see it coming until it was in my hand. It was really pretty and I considered keeping the leaf for a moment. Then decide that was a little crazy and I let it fall.

Things were going well. I felt good. I had to stop at a little blue house for a few minutes just beyond Mile Marker 10. I suppose that meant I was well hydrated, but I hated losing those 3 or 4 minutes. I don’t mind admitting that I walked the steepest hills coming up and away from the River. I knew that Forest Hill Avenue was next and I wanted a little gas in the tank for that portion of the route.

At that point I started seeing my coaches; Coach Blair checked on me and I told him I was doing great and he gave me a thumbs up and went to check on other runners. There was a really awesome party zone at Forest Hill and Westover Hills Avenues. The crowd was really cool and lots of people were cheering me by my name (on my bib). I was really pumped up through that crowd.

I took my next GU as planned at Mile 14, just past Crossroads Coffee. The Lee Bridge was approaching and I knew I would need the energy. There were fire fighters out cheering for us in front of their station around 20th Street and Semmes. They were cool.

The Lee Bridge was tough. It always is. I think it’s because we are headed north, and the wind there tends to be blowing straight into your face. Or it could be because right after the Bridge, everything is uphill for a while. It was tough and I pushed through it, happy to have that part behind me.

Main Street was only interesting because of the seriously drunken spectators. I think they had been going at it since about the time the race started, and that was almost 4 hours ago. I wasn’t feeling as good or rational as I had been earlier in the morning so for some reason, these screaming drunk spectators annoyed me.

At Mile 19, in front of The Diamond, Team Pink had a table set up. I didn’t want any food or water and I didn’t see any familiar faces, so I skipped it. I was not feeling very stellar anymore.

At Mile 20, I took my 3rd and final GU and that didn’t go especially well. It had gotten cold and thickened up and it was hard to swallow and didn’t feel like it would stay down. It was also time to put in my call to Byram so he could start heading downtown. I made the call and as soon as he answered, I completely choked up. I couldn’t breathe properly, couldn’t really speak to him, and a little ball of panic formed in my midsection. I struggled as he tried to talk me through it, but hung up as soon as I could. I focused on my breathing and forcing my shoulders to relax and let go and very soon, I was feeling much better as the GU kicked in and the panic faded out. I called him back a mile later to reassure him I was actually fine and just had a moment there when it wasn’t all fine.

And honestly, I really was fine. Yes, everything hurt but the hurting was increasingly unimportant to me. Somewhere on Brook Road, it really sank in that I was going to be alright. My right ankle was killing me but it wasn’t injured. My legs hurt but they didn’t feel heavy anymore, just sore, and sore wasn’t really a problem at that point.

Still, I must not have looked like my finest when I approached the last half mile around Grace and 3rd Streets because an MTT coach that I didn’t know decided I needed company. She asked me questions and I answered, but I don’t remember either her queries or my responses. I know that the more I tried to speak, the harder it was to breathe, and the harder breathing came, the closer I pushed back towards that panic I felt near Mile 20. She stayed with me, which was probably good, but at Cary Street, I told her I was good and basically asked her to leave me alone to finish. That hill is both wonderful, in the sense that your effort level goes way down, and brutal, in the sense that your balance and energy levels are wrung out and just staying upright and not face planting is a legitimate worry. I didn’t have it in me to push more than the 9 min/mile pace I pulled out on that hill down to the finish mat.

I tuned my ears in and listened. I was not in a crowd so if the announcers were still paying attention, I knew they would call my name as I crossed the finish.

They did.

“Kim Moore of Richmond!”

I crossed the line, made the final right hand curve onto Tredegar, and some really nice volunteer handed me my finisher’s medal, which felt shockingly heavy on my tired neck and shoulders.

My phone was ringing in the pocket of my running tights. I couldn’t answer my grandmother’s call to surely see if I was okay. At that point, I was single-minded. I needed to find my Sherpa and get some more clothes on.

I also really, REALLY, wanted a slice of cold pizza, but, well, pizza is for runners who manage to run faster than 12:30 minute miles. I found Byram who gave me a hug that actually hurt (my whole body hurt by that point) and we found my discarded running jacket in the clothing pile. I signed out on my team sheet, and then, careful not to trip and fall into the canal, I pulled on my extra clothes, posed for a few photos, and unceremoniously made our way back to the van and to home.

It was over. I can call myself a marathoner.

I was so cold when I got home that I couldn’t stop shivering and my lips were a deep shade of purple. I took a long hot bath, but kept having to add hot water because my skin was chilling the water around me. I was literally behaving like a human ice cube.

I thought the medal would mean more to me, but it is just a thing to wind up in the pile of medals in my underwear drawer. My memory of my high five from Bart Yasso, the maple leaf in my hand, and running backwards to give a very small boy the high five he ran into the street to give me; these memories mean so much more to me than that medal. Calling Byram the second time to reassure him that I was really okay is so much more important. The conversation with the lady who was running her 7th marathon where she confirmed that I was feeling awful but normal for that stage of the race. The random chatter with Coach Judy. The sight of Coach Blair on Forest Hill, and knowing I didn’t need his assistance. The seemingly naked dude holding a sign on Riverside and Lookout. The incredible feeling of invincibility I felt around mile 12 on Forest Hill, spreading my arms out wide and wanting to yell out loud. These are the things I want so desperately to  hold on to. These are the only reasons I would put myself through this again. No, the medal holds surprisingly little meaning to me.

Would I do it again?

I don’t know. Training for this became a way of life for me, especially in the last month. I have so many other things in my life to devote time and energy to, but most do not hold the positive energies that running over 26 miles did. I think I would do it again. Maybe. The timing would have to be right. With that said, I loved the energy and the positivity connected with running with Team Pink (and Cocoa to some extent) and THAT is what I crave to have again. NOW I understand why some people sign up for MTT, fully intending to switch to the Half Marathon teams later in the season; it’s to surround yourself with positive energy and people who share the same, positive, connected goal that you do, as soon as possible.

I have a couple of new goals for myself, none of which have to do with miles or speed. Once I tackle those, I might look at taking on another marathon. For now, I am content with what I have accomplished.

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Doubts

While we were at the Shamrock race expo, they were registering people for the Crawlin Crab Half Marathon, which is scheduled for the first weekend of October. I knew I had wanted to run that race, and Byram said “Go ahead and register today! Sign me up for the 5k while you’re at it.”

Well, two problems occurred. I had an account with the race production company (imATHLETE; also puts on Shamrock), but it was set up by Byram and he didn’t remember the password. Second, they were doing registrations on iPads, which I am not proficient in the use of. After 10 minutes of not even getting past the log in, I gave up and said I would register from home.

Three weeks later, being yesterday, I did. Byram had forgotten all about it, so I wanted to surprise him and sign him up for the 5k on Saturday, and I signed myself up for the “Shell Yeah” challenge, the 5k and the 13.1 the following day.

I kept waiting on Byram to check his email and was sure he would find a “Registration Confirmation” email and be so surprised, but apparently it only came to me. I waited a whole day before I sprung the surprise to him on FaceBook, and then forgot it is April Fool’s day, so he didn’t think I was serious at first.

Ah well, way to blow the wind out of my surprise sails.

In the meantime, I am contemplating three letters. MTT. That is Sports Backers’ speak for Marathon Training Team. $165 will get me 24 weeks of supported team training, my race entry fee, and ultimately a Richmond Marathon finisher’s medal (it really is all about the bling, I suppose).

It isn’t a question of can I do it. I know I can if I stick to the training plan. It isn’t a question of is my family okay with it. Byram (and Grace) have both thrown in their encouragement to the idea (I don’t think they realize how many hours I will be out of the house on runs in September and October). The question is all about my mental ability. Am I mentally tough enough?

Right now, all I have are doubts. 5+ hours of running, stuck in my own brain for that long? I get mentally weary at the 12 mile marker in a half. That will never do.

I trust my legs. I have doubts about my brain.

But I know of only one way to remove those doubts.

Shamrock Half Marathon 2014

Sherpa. The word specifically refers to the ethnic people of Nepal. It evolved to refer to the mountaineers who act as guides for people climbing mountains in the Himalayas. They go up the mountain first and make a way for those ambitious and less experienced people to make their way to the top. Among runners, you will hear it used as slang for the person who takes care of you so you can go race.

Byram is my sherpa. The week of a race, he takes care of logistics, planning, organizing, and communication. The night before a race, he takes childcare duties, and leaves me all to myself if that is what I want. The day of the race would never happen if not for my sherpa. He gets me to my starting line and is with me in spirit the whole way. When I get done with a race, he is there to greet me, schlepping all my post-race necessities along with him so I don’t have to worry about checking a bag or anything.

He makes a way for me to achieve my goals. I couldn’t do it without him.

It has been a crummy winter. The Winter That Won’t Die. It’s snowing like crazy, right now, on St. Patrick’s day. I have known I have a race on the calendar since January 7th. Did I really train for it? Sorta. I only got serious about it in the last 4 weeks. And every other week has been snowy and icy; treadmills have been in short supply and sidewalks have been essentially nonexistent for long stretches at a time.

The Shamrock Half was a gift, and it was one I treated a little shabbily in the weeks leading up to it. We went down to Virginia Beach on Saturday afternoon; it was a beautiful day and we spent several hours at the beach after packet pick-up and seeing the expo. We got a really good deal on compression socks, so I broke a cardinal rule (never try something new on race day) and put my new green socks into the clothing plan for the next day.

I had requested phở for my pre-race dinner and we got a recommendation for a place not far from the oceanfront. After a bit of confusion, we lucked into finding it, and I can say without reservation that Phở 79 has truly excellent broth. We made our way to the home of our friends Rich and Genie and Ian, and we settled in for a wonderful evening of catching up and reminiscing about the old days. The kids played until very late in the night, and the grown-up sat up chatting until very early in the morning. We trundled off to bed around 2am; it was a great evening but it set up a rough start when the alarms (I set 2!) went off at 4:30. Duane let me sleep as long as he could, but he wasn’t going to let me off the hook for a race just because I chose to stay up all hours of the night. I love him for that.

He got us to the oceanfront with no drama and we found a parking spot right off of the interstate and in a spot that would allow us to get right back on the interstate to leave with only two left turns. I didn’t mind the mile and a half walk but I felt bad for Byram. The weather was crystal clear; we started under the full moon as just before sunrise. The change in lighting was so gradual, I was startled when I realized the sun was up and we were running in full daylight.

The Shamrock Half route is very very simple. You start at Atlantic and 42nd Street and you follow Atlantic until you turn north west onto Shore Drive. Shore Drive is trees and swamp; not especially inspiring. Around mile 5.5 you turn right into Fort Story back on Atlantic Avenue and you officially “inbound”. I have been on Fort Story before a couple of times, but I didn’t remember it being such a bleak and stark place; particularly the northern end. Maybe it was partly because of the harsh winter we have suffered, or maybe I just went there later in the year when things were greener, but Fort Story as it appeared yesterday seemed to have all of the color drained from it. Everything was beige. It felt like we were running through a relic of another time, like World War II hadn’t quite ended for this place. It didn’t help that in the Fort, all of the intersections were guarded by mostly unsmiling, uniformed soldiers. I always try and smile and wave and say thank you to race volunteers, but the soldiers didn’t really respond. It felt a touch unfriendly and after a while, I just gave up on them. Thinking back on it, they probably weren’t “volunteers” in the traditional sense. They were on duty. At work. On a beautiful Sunday morning.

The sight I had looked forward to the most was in Fort Story though, which made unsmiling soldiers worth it. I got to see the two Cape Henry lights. There was a sundog in the sky and the morning was beautiful and clear, and the lights were there, solid and strong as ever. I have climbed the 1792 Light twice. I love it. The lights are at Mile Marker 8, and I was feeling great at that point. I was drinking water at every station, I had taken a gel around the 5 mile point, and all was well.

We continued on through Fort Story for another mile, which was a slightly less depressing section; there was some base housing, a few spectators, a few new and really expensive homes (clearly for top brass types), and after Mile Marker 9, we exited through the gates where I got the only friendly experience with any of the military types. The MP at the gate was smiling and giving out high fives to anyone in reach. I got one. I needed to see a smiling face and to shake the depressing dust of Fort Story from my heels.

Back into Virginia Beach proper, we completed the “loop” around the base and were back among the civilians. There weren’t lots of spectators, but those who were out were enthusiastic, several of whom had set up beer stations. It is always amusing to see beer being offered along a race course, amusing to see who chooses to take the offerings, and what the offerings are. The highest class of beer I saw being passed out was cans of Rolling Rock. It wasn’t even up to Pabst Blue Ribbon standards. No thanks.

I made a terrible mental mistake while we were running back to the ocean front. I noted the street number when we first got back in to Civilian Virginia Beach. We were at 89th Street. And I also knew that the finish line was at 30th Street.

I started doing math.

With 4 miles to go.

This was NOT the best idea ever. All of the sudden, in my mind, I knew I had almost 60 full blocks to still run and I started counting them down. This was BAD for me. I started tuning out my music and tuning into numbers. I was not disassociating from the normal late-race aches anymore. A few blocks from Mile Marker 11, at 67th Street, I heeled up for a one block walk break. I took another one block walk break between 50 and 49th Streets. After that, I was afraid if I walked anymore, I wouldn’t start up again. Seeing Mile Marker 12 cleared my head a lot. I plugged back into my music and told myself I had maybe 12 minutes left to go. It was better.

When we veered left on Atlantic where it splits from Pacific, we turned right into heavy and frigid winds. The wind gusts between intersections were spectacularly powerful and cold. I had stopped counting street numbers, so that was a good thing. I knew we were almost there because I could hear cheering.

The cheering was at 37th Street; a huge group of LiveStrong folks were set up where we turned off Atlantic and onto the Boardwalk. At the same time, we were turning into some hardcore wind and people were cheering and there were encouraging messages written in chalk on the sidewalk, and I was very tired and a little emotional. The wind was so strong and cold it literally took your breath away. Also, as I got around the corner and onto the boardwalk, I saw how far away the finish line still was (7 more blocks, but I didn’t know that number at the time). I got a bit teary for reasons I still don’t quite grasp. Fortunately, Thrift Shop by Macklemore came on my iPod and that song just cracks me up.

I know it wasn’t that far, but that boardwalk stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. The concrete hurt to run on. I was freezing and all I wanted to do was get through that finish line. As I approached Neptune, I took off my hat and gave him a little salute and plowed on through the finish line. I noted the clock time, knew it was not my chip time, and didn’t have any feelings about it one way or the other. I was just happy to be done. I felt like I had run a really good race despite a couple of rough miles near the end (they always happen, I think).

Taking off the hat was a mistake. Byram was looking for that hat, not wet red hair, and so he missed me when I passed him (I didn’t see him either). The chute stretched on a whole block and it was not easily navigable. I got my enormous medal from the most unenthusiastic volunteer ever, which felt odd. A long walk brought me to a station where they were handing out hats, then another long walk to water and Gatorade, then another long walk to the beach towels, then a granola bar stop; I mean it just went on forever. Then there was this enormous crowd of people coming and going to the beer tent up a fairly narrow set of stairs to the beach. I wanted nothing to do with the beer tent, I just wanted to go meet my husband at the arranged location.

Our reunion got all dorked up because I don’t carry my phone with me and he hadn’t seen me cross the finish. But that was just a sidebar to everything.

Shamrock was a really awesome and fun race with a touch of odd and awkward. Logistically, it was not easy, but like the other 30,000 participants, we managed. The course was fast and flat, and that was a nice change from moderately hilly Richmond, and the trail terrain of Instant Classic. The atmosphere of the party at the end would have been awesome if it had not been so bitterly cold that it felt like all 30,000 people were crammed into the beer tent. It did not have that friendly, whole town turns out vibe that Richmond does, but then I think the race must be an enormous PITA for the people who actually live in the area. It definitely lacked the mutual goodwill between spectators and runners of Richmond. It was cool to run along the beach. It was a great weekend to be with my family and play at the water’s edge too.

I keep getting asked if I would run it again and today my answer is I don’t know. If my March race choices come down to Instant Classic and Shamrock, it is tough to call between them. IC is 15 minutes from home, inexpensive, low key, calm and small. Shamrock is the opposite of all of those things, but Shamrock comes with the Big Race amenities like portajohns and freebies and swag bags and such. Not so with IC. Shamrock is flat and fast. IC is, well, not. Shamrock is pavement and concrete (to say, hurty), and IC is a trail (less hurty).

I don’t know and right now, it doesn’t matter. I am going to register for the Crawlin Crab half marathon in Hampton, running the first weekend of October. For that race, I am chasing down the King Crab challenge and will do the 5K with Byram on Saturday and the Half on Sunday.

Thank you to my best friend, love of my life, and sherpa, Byram, for making a weekend of incredible memories for our family.

One final note, added post script. As an indication of how much I just ran this race for the fun of it, I forgot to mention my final time. I shaved 2 minutes off of my last PR in November. 2:33:48. #ShamrockOn

Jackpot

7 degrees. That is what the temperature was at my house this morning when I got out of bed at 7 a.m. It also happens to be the 7th day of the month of January. This particular date just happens to be my birthday. 32 years old today. And 7 more days from now will be the 4th anniversary of my gastric bypass surgery.

Almost two years ago, I wrote a two part series about undergoing surgery and then the intervening years and experiences to that point. If you are feeling curious, you can find them at Part 1 and Part 2. Be warned, they aren’t short essays and a lot has transpired since then. If I can, I will try and write an update to them in the near future.

I was at my desk this morning, diddling around at my work with my Gmail account open in a window, though lowered into the taskbar at the bottom of the screen, when suddenly it went from reading Inbox to (3) Inbox. It is highly unusual to suddenly get 3 emails so I opened it immediately to discover 3 almost unintelligible subject headings.

imATHLETE – “Welcome to imATHLETE”

imATHLETE – “Your imATHLETE Purchase Confirmation”

At that point, I am thinking I have been scammed, hacked, or picked up a virus. Then I begin to get it when I read the subject header of the last one.

imATHLETE – “2014 Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, Anthem Half Marathon, TowneBank 8K, and Operation Smile Final Mile”

Confusion changed to shock. I hadn’t even opened one of the three emails yet, but I knew I had been registered for the Anthem Half Marathon (or better known as the Shamrock Half Marathon). And I knew instantly that Byram had been the one to do it. I got him on the phone and asked “What did you DO?!?” Happy Birthday, he said. He explained that he had arranged for Crash Space with our friends Rich and Genie in Virginia Beach, so no hotel hassle was necessary. He said he believed in me, that this would be a great experience, fun, and challenging. I’ll say. I have 65 days until my next race.

Today is the 7th, it was 7 degrees at 7 a.m. What happens when you turn up 777 in Vegas?

Jackpot.

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.

What Race?

Hey, I have a race coming up in less than 72 hours! How the heck did that happen???

Not for nuthin, but it does sort of feel like this race has crept up on me unawares. The 14 Mile Run loomed large for me the entire training period, and then right after that, I came down with a series of illnesses and injuries, and just getting (and staying) healthy has become my biggest focus. Race? What race? I am still hacking and coughing; thanks a lot post-nasal congestion.

What to wear? Who knows?!? Richmond is doing its normal meteorological mood swings, with today’s highs being in the low 40s, and Saturday’s highs being in the low 70’s. Getting a grip on how fast it will warm up on Saturday will play the biggest factor in my personal version of “What Not To Wear” (Half Marathon Edition). I have in fact completely changed my plan on race day clothing at 3:30 a.m., only 4 hours before a race. I am not wedded to anything until I walk out the door.

Like I opted to do in March, I am going to leave my beloved stop watch at home; it will be much better for my brain not to be processing numbers if the knee pain ramps up and the pace starts to click down. I am going to run in my old but very trusty Adrenalines. I am deciding about my fuel belt right now. On the one hand, it is darn convenient not to HAVE to slow at fuel stops, especially as it warms up. But not wearing it is very freeing and my arm movements are more natural when I am not trying to avoid smacking my forearms into my water bottles. Natural arm movements cut down on upper body muscle fatigue.

I will not check a bag this year. I understand that they have sorted out that little inconvenience this year, but honestly, it won’t be a hardship for Byram to bring me my heavy Navy hoodie along with him to Brown’s Island. That is really all I need. I had zero need for my wallet or my phone (not a smart phone so no reason to carry it) at any race I have previously run.

Friday, I took 4 vacation hours and I will go get my packet from the Expo, meander around there for a bit, and then probably swing by a GoodWill and buy the warmest clothes I can find that are half off for the week. These I will wear in that pre-race hour while I am waiting and shivering in the pre-dawn fog, to be discarded and donated to local homeless shelters right before we hit the start line. I might also try the trash bag trick, since I have heard it is effective, and the forecast is calling for fog and high humidity. Friday’s dinner needs to be a KISS meal. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Chicken. Broccoli. Rice or noodles. Lots of water. Not a massive spaghetti dinner. Not something new and unusual. Not even a trusted restaurant.

One nice thing: my lack of focus has meant that I am not in pre-race freakout mode like I normally would be. I am calm and just looking forward to the atmosphere of race day and getting this one done and on the books.

To Do:
Clean and decide about my fuel belt
Charge up iPod
Centrally locate all my technical gear and start deciding what to wear
Figure out post-race meeting spot
Locate if possible GU Salted Caramel gels (!!!)
Try to get more sleep (ha!)
Get warm donation clothes
Chill out and enjoy this race! It has been MONTHS since I raced and I am really looking forward to this one.

I probably won’t have time to write again. Check back for a post-race recap!

The Hardywood Twilight 4 Miler

So one of my favorite local breweries, Hardywood Park, decided to host a block party with a 4 mile cover charge. Ha.

When we heard about this back in January, Byram and I knew we had to sign up; it was a great way to support the brewery, have a fun “date”, and you know, add 4 miles onto our weekly training logs. Now, I have done a few first timer races, and in my past experience, they are under-organized and confused events. Not for lack of trying, but I know from my own experience, organizing an event for a large number of people is a daunting task, requires experience, and ALWAYS suffers unforeseen difficulties.

So my expectations for this race were a bit low. In fact, you could call me skeptical that this would go smoothly.

I am so thrilled to say that Hardywood stepped up to the plate and knocked out a tremendously fun event with a limited number of wrinkles. They arranged for parking at the nearby baseball stadium, so there was plenty of easily accessed parking. We had done our part and picked up our packets the previous day, so we avoided that particular line. We also decided to leave work about an hour early so we got there with almost 2 hours until race time. That allowed us plenty of time to sample the Twilight Weiss they debuted last night for the race. With a fantastic beer and fantastic company, we enjoyed relaxing and conversing and just having a little grown up time.

We ran into our friends Matt, Alicia, and Jennifer, and hung out with them as we waited to start. It was really nice seeing friendly faces.

When it came time to go, Byram and I decided to line up at the back of the slowest running corral rather than with the walkers. It was so hard not to take off running as we crossed that starting line, but we stuck with the plan to get a good long warm up walk in. Post-race, we concluded that our warm up walk was a bit too long, but that is a good thing to learn. We started running around the 1 mile mark or shortly thereafter. Byram pulled up with a fortunately short-lived Charlie horse in that first run, but I think we were sort of jazzed and ready to run and took off at too fast a pace. He worked the cramp out and we slowed the pace down and got to work. Rather than base his running intervals on the watch, he chose to use music, and that seemed to work very well.

I know the race was a tremendous inconvenience to those people who had to travel around the City last night, but it was a beautiful part of the Fan to run in, it was lovely waving at residents who were spectating from their porches and cheering us on, and really, we could not have asked for more perfect conditions. It was cool, but not so cold as to freeze us after the race, low humidity, and a gorgeous clear sky that was later lit up by one of the most beautiful full moons I have ever seen.

We finished the race strong and Byram earned a new personal record, pulling 7 full minutes off his last 4 mile race time, and we finished in under an hour. The race photographer got a good picture of us grinning at each other as we were running to the finish line. I spotted her and told him to make sure he looked cute since we were getting our picture taken. He responded with something pithy and sarcastic, and so we were laughing at each other when she got us. That picture now graces my computer screen as wallpaper.

It took almost as long to get our free post-race beer as it did to run the race, but it didn’t feel too onerous. I spotted a coworker who had come out for beer and the party, so we chatted briefly with him, and eventually got our Twilight beers and headed around a corner and out of the sea of people.

It was the most fun I have had at a race. I went with low expectations and no goal other than to encourage Byram and enjoy his company, and my expectations were blown away and I solidly met both of my goals.

My favorite memories of the event will be some of the cute signs held by volunteers for the race (“Take your time, we ran out of beer!” followed by “Just kidding!”), seeing the guy who lapped us before we had hit the 1 mile mark while he was on his way to win the race, cheering for a mom and her young son (maybe 4 years old) who were running a bit, seeing that clock read 58 minutes as we closed in on it, and crossing the finish line right next to my best friend.

I hope Hardywood can do it again next year. If they do, I’ll be there.