Monday, November 12, 2012

Richmond Half Marathon Review

I had been waiting for this race for quite a while. Having registered in March, the Richmond Marathon seemed so far in the future. I actually registered for this half marathon prior to running my first one in April. After the Charlottesville half marathon, I backed off my weekend long runs through the summer. I wanted to be able to spend more time with the family on the weekends and I didn’t have any long distance races in the near future. I told myself that I would start back with my longer runs when the Richmond race got close. Well sometimes life gets in the way. Between the Virginia 10 Miler in September and the Richmond race, I managed to only get one 8 mile or longer run completed. Even though I was still putting in 20 to 25 miles a week, I didn’t feel like I was as prepared for my second half marathon as I was for my first.

To make matters even more complicated, after reading “Born to Run”, I decided that I needed to tweak my running form. I wanted to stop being such a “heel striker” and run more on my forefoot. I haven’t really discussed this change with anyone. It has been something I have been slowly doing on my daily runs. I first started running with my “new” form for the first 10 minutes of my runs. Once the soreness in my calves wore off, I made myself go add a few more minutes of my changed running style. I built up the ability to run on the balls of my feet for my entire 4 mile treadmill runs. My legs didn’t agree with my new running style, but the soreness finally went away and my legs have never felt stronger. Just a couple weeks ago, I ran a 8 mile run in Bedford while exclusively using my new form. Even though I was able to do the 8 miles, I knew my legs were not going to be able to handle the new form for 13.1 miles. So I didn’t know exactly “how” I was going to mix my two running styles in order to make the full half marathon in Richmond.

With these two issues weighing heavy on my mind, the family and I set off to Richmond for the weekend. Since I knew we had to travel and pick up my race packet on Friday, I went ahead and took a day of vacation to give us plenty of time. Our friend Haley was nice enough to let us crash at her house in Richmond for the weekend. This allowed us to save a lot of money on our travel plans. So after sleeping for a couple hours on an air mattress and a few more hours on a couch, my alarm went off at 6:00 AM on Saturday morning. I jumped right out of bed, got dressed, and ate my normal pre-run breakfast of a banana and Nutella on a slice of wheat bread. Haley was also nice enough to wake up early and drop me off near the race’s starting line.

After walking a couple of blocks to the starting area, my next concern was trying to find the bag drop off area. I brought along a backpack with a dry set of clothes to wear after the race and my cell phone to call Anna if I couldn’t find her after the race. It was in the 30’s on Saturday morning and I was not too happy about getting rid of my fleece jacket 20 minutes before the race, but I knew I would get too hot running with it on. So with 20 minutes to go before the start of the race, I was down to my long sleeve shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, a beanie, and gloves. I don’t know if it was the nerves or the temperature, but I was definitely getting a little case of the “shakes”, while waiting for the start.

By 7:15, I had made my way to my starting group “C”. I still had 19 minutes until my wave started the race, but I knew I wanted to go ahead and get a spot before it got really crowded. The next 19 minutes seemed to take forever. The combination of nerves, cold temperatures, and anticipation didn’t make the time go by any faster. Finally at 7:30, the first wave of half marathoners was released and we started walking closer to the start line. From this point on, my nerves seemed to calm down and I was able to start enjoying the experience. At 7:34, I was off!

The first few miles were straightest, flattest miles I have ever run. I was excited about this race because of the lack of elevation change, but this was starting out more flat than I could ever have imagined. The downside to the flat route was the fact that I wanted to run faster than I should have been running. After a quick check of my pace on my watch, I had to make myself back down a little. I was running in the low 7 minute per mile pace and I knew that was way too fast at this point. Even though I made myself slow down my first mile was covered in 7 minutes and 53 seconds. Seeing this time, I made myself slow down even more. I ignored the other runners’ around me and started to enjoy the surrounds. Running down Broad Street, there were plenty of things to see and this helped me get through the next few miles.

After settling in on a good pace in the 8 minute per mile range, the next few miles seemed to go by very fast. Before I knew it, we were heading into Bryan Park. Somewhere in the park would be the halfway mark and this gave me a really good feeling. Around 55 minutes into my run, I started to eat the Gu gel pack that I had in the pocket of my shorts. Thanks to my friend Lindsey for providing me with a couple gel packs at the packet pick-up area on Friday! I slowly finished off the gel pack over the next mile of running. I don’t really like eating the gel packets, but I knew it would help me finish the last few miles strong.

Through the entire course of the race, I passed a number of special needs people being pushed in large strollers. There were teams of 4-5 people taking turns pushing these individuals through the entire half marathon course. The names of the riders were written on poster board and hung on the side of their rides. The combination of the bravery these individuals showed by taking part in the race and the determination of the team of runners helping these people was very inspiring. It was very hard for me to feel sorry for myself 8 miles into a race when possessed the physical ability to run. I made sure to encourage each of the riders by name and also say a few words of encouragement to all the running teams. Seeing these groups of people working together to bring someone else so much enjoyment was very moving. It was truly one of the most inspiring parts of the entire race.

The extraordinary people were not only limited to the runners and riders taking part in the race. There were countless numbers of bystanders that were very encouraging. There were many shouts and cheers that helped keep my feet moving. There were also many creative signs with various phrases and messages. Of course I cannot remember most of them now! I do remember one lady holding up a sign that read, “Hit here for extra energy”. I definitely switched sides of the road just to hit her sign. It didn’t work, but at least it took my mind off running for a few seconds.

Around mile 10, I hit a wall! I knew it was coming. I had set a very fast pace for myself and it had finally caught up with me. I didn’t have any pains anywhere, I was just fatigued. I was having a hard time keeping my feet turning over like they were for the first 10 miles. I knew if I wanted to post the time I was shooting for, I needed to keep my pace the same as it had been all race. I knew the last half mile of the race was downhill to Brown’s Island, so I just kept telling myself that there was only a little bit left. Rounding one of the final turns, there was a gospel band going to town on a stage just off the course. This was very uplifting and their Godly words of encouragement were just what I needed.

Before I knew it, I was heading downhill! The end was near and I tried to finish strong. The downhill section was more difficult that I had imagined though. My top half wanted to go faster than my bottom half could muster. So I had this feeling that I was going to fall on my face! I finally found a comfortable speed to maintain as the finish line came into sight. I had done it! I come across the line in 1 hour 49 minutes and 33 seconds. My time was just under the 1:50, which was my goal. I was very excited about reaching the goal I had set for myself even though I didn’t put in the training I had wanted to do. I was able to run about 75% of the race with my new running form. I had to revert to some bad running form a few times because my calf muscles were beginning to get very tight.

After making it to Brown’s Island, I quickly found the food. I must eat right away after long runs or I will get light headed very quickly. I was able to get a banana and a slice of Papa John’s pizza in my system. I had not seen Anna and the boys at the finish line. So I was trying to keep an eye out for them. After about 15 minutes, I was starting to get pretty cold from my wet clothes. I decided to make my way to the bag pick-up area and get my dry clothes and cell phone. I was finally able to call Anna and they ended up being less than a block away. We went back to Brown’s Island and enjoyed some more food and music.

The Richmond Marathon has been coined as “America's Friendliest Marathon”. After my experience this past weekend, I believe that is a valid description. Whether it was the volunteers, the bystanders, or the other runners, everyone was very hospitable and encouraging. Hopefully I will be able to take part in this race weekend again in the future. Now it is on to the next race for me. I just have to figure out what that race is going to be.