Tl;dr version: I just ran a marathon faster than I’ve ever run a marathon before, and that doesn’t suck.
I started training for Richmond in the spring. I had a solid base from MCM training last year and had kept my mileage up over the winter. I used the Hal Higdon Novice II program for this training cycle, which involved 5 days of running and 2 days of cross training. I also did lots of core work and upper body strength, but that fell off in the month or so before the race.
I focused on losing some weight before/during training. I cut out alcohol entirely in July and just ate better in general while closely tracking calories in/calories out. I lost about 7 pounds in total by race day, and if I am being honest I have about 7 more to go before I hit my ideal race weight.
My training went extremely well. I got all of my miles in, and the long runs were way better than last my last training cycle. Although I still had issues with the heat, I didn’t have to cut any of my long runs short, and they were an order of magnitude less miserable than last time. They were over a minute per mile faster than my long runs last year too, so that was encouraging.
RTB was a huge confidence booster during training. I ran a more difficult set of legs than I usually do, and I ran them well. I felt strong throughout, but it took me a while to recover from this race.
MCM was not quite what I had hoped it would be as a train-through marathon. It was quite a tough run for me, but it had to do with the weather and other non-running-related things surrounding the race. I took what I learned from that experience and corrected a lot of things leading up to Richmond.
Physically I didn’t recover well after MCM. I developed a bit of PF in my right foot, and then I rolled my ankle while walking the dog. My right piriformis has always been tight, but in the weeks leading up to Richmond it got worse. Then my left piriformis got in on the act. I was stretching and rolling and icing and anti-inflammatory-ing and things seemed to be feeling better by race day.
My boyfriend and I stayed with my sister in Richmond, about 15 minutes from the race start. That was pretty sweet, especially since it was in the 20s at the race start. I got up early, ate a banana, drank some water, and donned my race clothes. I went with capris, a long-sleeved top, ear warmers/headband, and gloves. It was the perfect outfit, and I was never too cold or too warm during the race.
My strategy for the race was to warm up the first few miles and then dial in race pace for the rest of the race. My boyfriend and I had taken a bus tour of the course the day before the race, so we knew where all of the hills on the course were, and honestly, they weren’t so bad. I knew there was a pretty steep downhill around mile 6 that I wanted to be sure not to take too hard since it’s rolling hills after that and a screaming downhill to the finish.
My fueling strategy was based on the locations of the water stops: every 2 miles up to mile 20 and then every mile thereafter. In training I had taken a gel every 5 miles on my long runs, and I thought every 4 miles would be too much during the race, so I settled on gels at 6, 12, 18, and then somewhere between 22-24.
The race started with little fanfare (the 8k and half marathon starts were much more exciting), and we were off. The first two miles were a literal warm-up for me since it was cold and I was just trying to get my muscles warm. I settled in behind the two 4:15 pace group pacers, a guy in a skirt and a guy with a chicken on his head. My goal was to stay behind them until after the big downhill and then pick it up from there.
The first 4-5 miles were in the city and down Monument Ave. I tried to take in the sights and enjoy the spectators in these miles. I had no idea of elapsed time or distance at all during this race because I somehow couldn’t set my GPS to display it (I got a new Garmin at the MCM expo and haven’t read the f-ing manual yet). So the splits on my watch only displayed the time and distance for the current mile, which actually helped me keep focus in the later miles.
We turned out of the city and hit that first big downhill. A lot of people were hammering down the hill, but I kept myself reigned in so that I would still have quads left at the end of the race. Around mile 5 I was starting to get a brain fog/negative thoughts about the race which was not normal for me. I took my gel as planned at mile 6 and instantly felt better. I didn’t make the fuel-brain connection until later in the race, and I just kept running on.
Mile 1: 9:55
Mile 2: 9:39
Mile 3: 9:25
Mile 4: 9:33
Mile 5: 9:32
Mile 6: 9:45 (gel, walked through water stop)
10k split: 1:00:27 <9:40>
We ran through some cute neighborhoods and then crossed over the Huguenot Bridge where we got a beautiful view of the James River lined with trees with leaves at their peak fall colors. It was really gorgeous. We turned off the bridge onto a road that paralleled the river for a few miles. Chicken head guy was still in front of me, which was frustrating because I was trying to pick up my pace. This section had some rolling hills winding around several neighborhoods, and then we popped out onto a main county road that we would take for several miles before we crossed back over the river into the city.
At around mile 11, the negative thoughts started creeping back in (why the hell am I out here? How can I run 15 more miles? This isn’t fun, why do I do this to myself?), and again they went away after taking my gel at mile 12. I decided to take the next gel at mile 16 and then another at mile 21 so that I could pre-empt my brain going to negative places by giving it enough fuel. I saw my family between miles 12-13 which was a huge boost. They said I looked much better than when they saw me at mile 18 during MCM!
Mile 7: 9:38
Mile 8: 9:44
Mile 9: 9:47
Mile 10: 9:49
Mile 11: 9:48
Mile 12: 10:02 (gel, walked through water stop)
Mile 13: 10:02
Half split: 2:08:33 <9:46>
With my half split (which I estimated based on the clock at the half timing mat) I knew sub-4 wasn’t going to happen that day. Ok, fine, I will adjust my goal to PRing and keeping every remaining mile under 10 minutes.
The next few miles pretty much destroyed my newly adjusted goal, and I’m still not quite sure what happened. The bursitis in my left foot flared up, but I was able to appease it by moving my orthotic around in my shoe with my toes until my foot felt better. Then my lower back tightened up, which I attributed to my stupid piriformis issue. I pulled over to stretch my piriformis/hamstrings hoping to loosen up. At this point I had lost chicken head man, and we turned onto the Lee Bridge to cross the James River back into the city. Again, another gorgeous view, this time of downtown Richmond (and if you looked closely enough, the finish line). The bridge is ~1.5 miles, and somewhere along there, my right IT band started hurting directly on the outside of my knee. It wasn’t just a dull pain, it was a stabbing pain. I pulled over again to stretch to loosen it up, and with that, my race imploded.
I took my next gel at mile 16, averting the negative thoughts that had crept in before, and focused on seeing my family at mile 20. I knew that once we were back in the city, there were a few more rolling hills but nothing to be concerned about. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and pondered what exactly it was that I did wrong to cause my ITB to hurt. My piriformis and back were going from just being tight to being painful, so I stopped every mile or so to stretch all of them out.
I finally crested the last big hill over the train tracks and was on the downhill towards my family. I smiled and waved as I ran by, and my sister yelled out that my boyfriend was going to visit the med tent at the finish because he injured his foot. So for a few minutes my mind was off my own bad race and went to worrying about/rolling my eyes at my boyfriend because I figured he had gone out too hard and hurt himself. The 20 mile marker FINALLY came into view, and I knew I only had about an hour left of this painful run-stretch-hobble shuffle to go.
Mile 14: 9:53
Mile 15: 10:23
Mile 16: 11:33
Mile 17: 11:32
Mile 18: 10:56
Mile 19: 11:41
Mile 20: 11:56
20 mile split: 3:25:31 <10:15> I honestly didn’t even look at the clock when I crossed the timing mat because I knew my adjusted goal was out the window, plus I wouldn’t have been able to do the math to even estimate a finishing time at that point. So I just kept trudging on.
I took my final gel at mile 21 and just kept moving forward as best I could with stretch breaks. I now know the true meaning of death march. The spectators in this section were great, from cheering on the runners to offering us food and bourbon, they really embraced us. They buoyed my spirits a bit, but as the miles went on, I felt completely broken down. I had a great training cycle, I was totally mentally prepared for the race, I set a lofty but not unreasonable goal for myself, and here I was crashing and burning. I had put it all out there on and I was failing spectacularly. I was sorely disappointed and I still had to finish the damn race.
And so I did, but not before my legs gave me one final surprise. Calf cramps, fun! Both calves twinged at the same time, and I knew I was about to cramp. I pulled over to gently stretch them, and when I got back on the course I saw the “1 mile to go” mark spray painted on the ground. I had visualized this point in the race many times during training runs, but it was never like this! As I got back into my wonky stride, a spectator asked if I was ok and told me I was doing great and was almost there. I said to her, “This fucking sucks!” and she laughed and agreed but said I was about to finish a marathon, and that was pretty fucking awesome.
We made three turns on city blocks and were on the screaming downhill to the finish. Gravity was my friend and pulled me down that hill, and I just let my legs take me. My right calf hurt pretty badly by this point, but I just kept going and going and going. The announcer gave me a shout-out as I crossed the finish line, and I was blissfully, finally, finished.
Mile 21: 12:58
Mile 22: 12:31
Mile 23: 13:19
Mile 24: 12:47
Mile 25: 11:55
Mile 26: 11:30
Mile 26.2: 3:19
Finish time (chip): 4:43:01 <10:48>
PR by 2:10
I got my medal and super sweet fleece blanket and found my boyfriend. The med tent diagnosis was possible stress fracture, but he was pleased with his finish time of 4:12:xx. I got my bag, and we found our way to the shuttle buses back to the start where my brother-in-law had dropped us off that morning and was waiting to take us to our post-race meal at Bottom’s Up Pizza. I “celebrated” with a local IPA and put on a happy face for my family. I had to get up several times during our meal to stretch because everything from my lower back down was tightening up. It was nice to relax for a while with the family before heading back to my sister’s house, showering, then traveling back to my parents’ house for the night before our return to NJ the next day.
Overall I really enjoyed the course, it was very runner-friendly and appealed to me: not super flat, no huge hills, but just enough to keep it interesting. Great course support and volunteers. And the spectators were very energetic, but I kind of hate the ones who were playing Christmas music and made the course a winter wonderland at mile 22 or 24 or wherever that was. I was kind of delirious at that point and the Christmas music just made me angry.
My lower back, piriformis, right ITB, and right calf hurt for several days after the race. The calf I blame on fatigue during the race and possibly the touch of PF I seem to have developed between MCM and Richmond. But I have no idea where the ITB issue came from. The only time I’ve had ITB pain like that was during Steamtown in 2004 when I DNFed at mile 16. I had pain in both knees that I had never had in training and have never had since, until this race. Maybe it was because of the downhill on the course? Who knows. I am stretching and rolling and it’s getting better with time.
I think fueling was an issue during the race. I tend not to eat much before a long run, and during training I took gels every 5 miles. During this race I started out taking them every 6 miles, and I think that might have screwed me up. The brain fog/negative thoughts are not something I experienced during training, and I think lack of carbs to my brain might have been the culprit.
Race-specific-training-wise, I put in the volume, but I don’t think I did enough MP runs. I never really knew where my MP was to dial it in during the race. Definitely something to focus on next time.
So what else did I do wrong that led to my blowup? Maybe I overtrained? Did too much with RTB + lots of long runs + MCM? The fact that I couldn’t speed up after the first 6 miles or so leads me to believe that my body was just worn out from training or something. I did have a migraine and a bad cold going into the race, and maybe that affected me more than I thought. Or maybe it was the non-running-related stress that I had going on the 2 weeks before the race. Most likely it was a combination of these things.
Now that some of the disappointment has worn off and I’ve gotten some perspective, I am kinda sorta satisfied with my 2:10 PR. I am still frustrated that things fell apart at mile 15 when I felt like I had trained for a much better race. I am throwing around a few ideas for training over the winter, but I haven’t decided if I am going to train for a half or a full in the spring. I will let this experience settle for a while longer before making any real decisions about training. I do know that I am going to add in strength training and more yoga and keep up with the core strength (for real this time!).
Still on the quest for sub-4!