Richmond. Just the mere mention of the name still sends shudders down my spine. Dont get me wrong…I’m sure Virginia’s capital is a fine place, and it’s very pretty in November, but I will always equate the town with pain and suffering. Two years ago I chose Richmond as my first marathon and decided to go up there with the Strictly Running group. Being scared to death of the distance, I trained pretty hard..hard enough to pretty much destroy my IT band in the process. But instead of bagging the whole trip, I went anyway. The rest lives on in my memory…10 miles of great, 3 miles of OK, then 4 miles of wheels slowly falling off. The Lee bridge was the site of my demise, where I started walking at mile 17. Trophy dropped me, then pretty much everyone I knew on that trip got to witness my death march to the finish. I have never felt worse in a race – I got completely dehydrated and had lightning shock cramps in my quads. By the time I finished I was half delirious, nauseated and limping, swearing I’d never do this again.
Yeah right. If there’s anything that motivates me, its wanting to redeem a complete failure. I pretty much made peace with Richmond last year, running Jacksonville in almost perfect even splits en route to a 32 minute PR. My decision to come back to Richmond this year was more about it being a nice marathon – great crowd support, nice course, etc. But there was definitely an element of revenge as well.
This time it was just Trophy, Diesel and I running the full, with Mrs. Diesel aka Jen doing the half. Brad “Major” Marlow was also there with his family. I had a hard time deciding on a goal time, but I decided eventually to shoot for 3:15 (7:29 pace) . This would give me the best shot to be able to adjust toward the end – it gave me a cushion to PR if I was hurting and it would at least give me a chance to shoot for the 3:09:59 glory of a BQ if I was going strong. Trophy decided he would forgo pacing altogether and use my melon head as a pace beacon. Diesel was trying to break 3:50, maybe get 3:45. Jen hoped to break her 1:59 PR from Jacksonville in the half.
We all drove up the night before and gathered at the Omni hotel before the start. I could tell right off the bat that it was considerably warmer than 2010. That worried me, since the blazing sun on the Lee bridge basically stuck a fork in me last time. About 40 something, no wind. The crowds were huge at the start. Canceling the NYC marathon last week led to over a thousand last second entries into Richmond. There were a lot of NYC bibs, and one guy had a course marker flag from New York as well. After Jen went off with the half start, Trophy and I suddenly found ourselves way back in the pack and we had to squeeze through a few hundred people to get in between the 3:15 and 3:30 pacers.
Soon we were off, and it was pretty tight with the record crowd. Kept having to pull some running back cuts and jukes just to keep from getting boxed in. After a while Trophy and I settled into a decent rhythm and we hit mile 1 at 7:36, right with the 3:15 pacers. The pacers then surged ahead, so I figured I was already slacking, so I made a point to keep up. The next three miles I just zone out and follow the pace pack. It starts to feel a little brisk, but I’m so locked in to keeping up with the pacers that I dont bother to look at the Garmin. Trophy is no longer beside me, but I figure he isn’t too far back. I’m following my Team Schmitz race fueling plan, and I then panic for two reasons. One, I realize I’ve either lost or left 2 of my favored Espresso Love GUs behind, and two, is that really a freaking 7:04 for the last mile? Ehmergerd. I just figured I was being a wuss for thinking the 7:30 pace was too hard. As I let off the gas and let a little gap build , mile 5 comes back at 7:16, so I’m thinking these “pacers” are trying to run us all over a proverbial lactic acid cliff. Probably would have had 7 minutes flat for mile 5 if I hadn’t noticed.
This is when I dropped a few internal F bombs and decided to trust myself rather than commit group suicide with these guys. I drift back a bit and log several 7 20ish miles…not too bad. Trophy has been long gone so I wonder if Ive already dropped him. About mile 8 I hear a “paging Dr Blue Shoes” and Brad catches up with me. He apparently got stuck back in the mob scene start and had a couple of minutes before he even made the start mat. We run for a while together and catch back up with the 3:15ers, who must have finally come to their senses. Brad then picks it up and I let him go, not knowing what super powers Jourdain’s A team may have bestowed upon him. We cross the James River and see that they’ve altered the course away from the riverside..so that we could have the pleasure of climbing a minor mountain. Nice.
Mile 10 and 11 are along the riverside and Trophy suddenly makes a reappearance. We run the next few miles together and damn it if I’m starting to feel like I may be pulling a repeat bonktastrophe. Its not for lack of hydration or electrolytes (Jen Hill plan). I carried a bottle of water with me just in case, but there seems to have been plenty of water/powerade at the aid stations. Plus, I had been double fisting the cups like a drunken sailor. I had taken 2 GUs and one salt tab. None of that seemed to make up for the beat down my neon shirted pace dudes had given me in the first 5 miles.
There is a long hill in the sun just before the half marker, and its feeling remarkably like 2010 all over again. Trophy and I hit the half at exactly 1:38 by the race clock, probably about 20-30 sec faster by our chip. Trophy made sure to surge right before the mat so “the people back home” tracking us would see he’s winning. He did beat me..by one second. The whole 13-16 mile stretch starts to take on a pallor of suckage. I keep trying to remember its November, because its so freaking warm. Over 60 by this time.
Finally we reach the Lee bridge, which crosses over the James river back to downtown. The beginning of the end in 2010. The sun is blazing, but mercifully the brutal headwind from 2 years ago has not materialized. I don’t know whether its the adrenaline from race PTSD or maybe my last GU kicking in, but I feel a surge of energy and pick up the pace. Trophy fades a bit and for quite a while I’m zoned out and alone, eyes locked in to the incline on the other side where I caught a wicked case of the walksies last time. When I finally reach that area, I power through it on a mission. No way thats happening again. I hit a water stop and see Brad , but then he pulls off the course suddenly and I wonder if he’s dropping. I turn the corner, both literally and metaphorically, and reach a flat area downtown, which I distinctly remember strolling down in 2010. I try to focus on not doing that and blocking out the blaring Gangnam Style I’m hearing for like the 3rd time this morning.
I give myself 2 pats on the butt at mile 18 in memory of getting ass slapped by both Schmitzes at that point 2 years prior. I’m still feeling the groove until just before the mile 19 point, where those 7:04ish miles decide to take their toll. I choke down a vanilla accel gel because they were giving them out at one of the aid stations, and my Espresso Love is long gone. Yeah, not working so much. Things turned south in a hurry. Just no energy. After this it was basically just an ongoing mental struggle. I had no idea what my pace was, and I was afraid to look at the Garmin to find out. Just before mile 21 there’s an overpass to climb, and every fiber of my being was screaming for a nice walk, but I told the fibers to go F** * themselves. Some people dedicate the last miles to family members to inspire them, but I can’t say I was coherent enough to do this. All I looked for was those big yellow mile markers. The pack had thinned out quite a bit my this point, and though I know my pace was crap, I was still passing people. I kept on getting jarred back to reality with a “go blue shoes” , forgetting I had the ridiculous name printed on my bib. It was a war zone out there with the sun out in full force and temps pushing 70. I did have a couple people finishing strong give me the beatdown, and every time I heard footsteps I was deathly afraid of getting Trophied. But it never materialized. I knew at the 20 mile marker I had to run a 50 minute 10k to break my 3:20 PR, something I probably do on most training runs. Sadly, by mile 23, I was more concerned about getting my melon head over the finish line alive. I dont remember much about the last miles, just that they really, really sucked. I was so relieved about the last half mile, because it was all screaming downhill. Actually managed a feeble kick, driven entirely by the desire to end this suffering. I was surprised to see the 3:22 on the clock when I rounded the last turn, and crossed just a shade over 3:23 by clock time, 3:22:46 official chip time.
OK, so it wasnt the glorious 3:09:59 I may have dreamed about or even a PR, but I was so glad to be done I didnt care. In hindsight, I’m sure I would have PR’d without chasing the ridiculous pacers. Jacksonville was much colder (held in late December) and much flatter than Richmond, so that’s another factor. Either way, still a good half hour better than 2010, and no walksies, so I’ll take it. Speaking of PR’s , Trophy nearly caught me in his best marathon of 3:24:13. Brad did not drop, and recovered enough for a respectable 3:32. Diesel had a very similar experience to my 2010 race, complete with walksies and 13 minute miles, en route to a 4:20. I feel your pain, dude. The winner for the day was definitely Jen, who crushed her half PR by six minutes with a 1:53.