2008 SunTrust Richmond Marathon - A Recap

It’s over.

It did not go well.

While I did set a new PR (personal record), I missed my goal time of coming in under 4 hours by 15 minutes—huge in the world of running. What went right, what went wrong, and what I’ll obsess about for the coming months are below.

America’s Friendliest Marathon
The Suntrust Richmond Marathon is touted as “America’s Friendliest Marathon.” Although they would eventually redeem themselves, I was not feeling the love Friday night. We arrived in town only to discover we had to wait out in a drizzle for a shuttle that took us 25 minutes away to the Arthur Ashe Center for the expo and packet pick-up. On the way back we waited outside, in the cold and rain, for the shuttle back. If the Richmond marathon organizers seek runner feedback, I’ll have a few choice words about the wisdom of 2 shuttles for 14,000 runners with no rain tent or door-to-door service.

Forecasts had been calling for thunderstorms all week. I wrapped my mind around dealing with wind and rain. What I hadn’t counted on was humidity. The morning of the race, temperatures were high 60’s with 93% humidity.

And We’re Off! Breaking it Down By The Miles

Miles 1-2: Pam, Chris and I were all running in the 4-hour pace group, following a man in a clown wig and holding balloons. It was nice being surrounded by friends and I briefly had visions of us finishing the marathon together. But the humidity combined with being in the middle of a herd of runners did its damage early on. By mile two my face was beet red, and every runner in sight was drenched, looking more like we’d been running for 10 miles versus 2.

Miles 7-8: Chris and I decide to pick up the pace and pull slightly ahead of the pace group. The reason is the water stops are packed and we’re losing 10-20 seconds at every stop, pushing in to get water. The pace group pulls ahead and we’re having to play catch-up every two miles. Also, as if to mock those of us who worried about having to run in rain, the sun comes out during the point of highest humidity. As a group, every runner sighed, “Nooo!” as the sun peeked out from the clouds.

Mile 10: Mentally, I give up. I lost the race right here. It’s hot and I’m way too tired for this early in the race. I’ve been struggling much too hard during the early miles to stay on pace. My plan was to run 15-18 miles without too much thought and then mentally buckle-down to pull through the remaining miles. Having to “buckle down” at mile 7 has freaked me out and filled me with doubt. I entertain the thought of dropping out, thinking I’d rather have a DNF (Did Not Finish) than the 5-hour plus marathon time I suspect I’m facing. Respect for my team members keeps me going. DNF is only for if you’re injured, not to save the ego because you’re running a bad race. I decide to stay in and just pray I turn an ankle or pass out and get pulled off the course.

Mile 14: I’ve managed to hang with my pace group until now (Chris pulled ahead of me on a hill around mile 13 and I never saw him again) but this is it. At the mile 14 water stop I watch them pull ahead and am so tired and depressed I just don’t give a shit.

Mile 15-16: The bridge. I’d been warned about the 1 mile bridge and how windy it is and hard to run. I pull out my I-pod and swear I’ll run at least run the first song. I make it about 2 minutes and start walking. I will walk/run the marathon from this point on.

Mile 19: Blair is waiting for me at mile 19. By pure luck, I’m actually jogging as I pass by him. He waves and yells and I look at him and shake my head. “I’m not going to make it,” I mouth, and trudge on. We’ve captured this inspiring moment on film.

Mile 19.5: I’m 8 minutes and some change off pace for a 4-hour finish. I can sprint from here on out and I’m not making up 8 minutes. My dream of under 4 hours is officially over. Self-pity creeps in and I start walking, trying not to cry. This lasts less than a minute as, thankfully, my sense of humor kicks in. “Oh, give me a break,” I hear my own voice in my head. “It’s turning into a beautiful day, you’re capable of walking to finish this thing, just deal with the fact you’re going to have a bad time and move on.” And I did.

Mile 20: A note on Gu. It’s recommended runners eat Gu approximately every hour. Gu is like getting an energy shot and gives the fading body the caffeine and nutrients it needs to keep going. I ate one pack at 1 hour 15 minutes, and didn’t remember to Gu again until 3 hours 40 minutes, making my run a whole lot more harder than it needed to have been. In a testament to the power of negative thinking, I was so focused on “I’m failing, I’m not going to do it,” it apparently never occurred to me to try and do something about it. Serves me right.

Miles 21-22: The humidity got much better as the race went on, thanks to winds that kicked up. On the challenging side, the wind blew in our face for almost the last 4 miles of the race, and I frequently found myself having to hold my hat on my head as I walk/ran.

Miles 23-24: The Gu kicks in. I run what I’m guessing is an 8:30 pace for almost a mile. I’m still walk/running, but running more often and at a quicker pace than I have been.

Mile 25.8: Blair, Amy, Kay, Angel, and Christine are by the side of the road, cheering and screaming. Friends are very good things. Seeing them all cheers me up more than knowing I’m but a few steps from the finish.

Mile 26.2: I am LOVING the downhill finish. My shins are doing weird things—a combination of cramps and what feels almost like bubbles going through my veins—but I pull it together and sprint past 5 runners to cross the finish line.

After the Race: This is my proudest part of the day. I felt good after the race. My lower back never hurt (and I also forgot to take Advil until mile 20), I wasn’t at all nauseous, and I walked around for about 40 minutes, eating pizza and bananas and watching for Pam and John to come in. I’m sore to be sure but, overall, not in that bad of shape.

The Stats:
My chip time was 4:15:01, which is 9:45/mile. (I would have needed a 9:09/mile pace to make under 4 hours.) I came in 67th out of 237 in my age group, 350 out of 1242 women, and 1097th out of 2994 total marathon runners.

With the exception of John, who set a new PR (Yea John!!), none of the marathon runners in my group had a good day. We all came in well over our planned times. Although I alone am responsible for my race, I feel comforted knowing the weather really did seem to impact everyone. I know I finished the race surrounded by a number of people who also started off in the 4-hour pace group. And the marathon did redeem itself for being friendly with great crowd support and wonderful volunteers.

Looking back at the race, I’m not so much angry or depressed as I am frustrated. All that training, all those hopes, just knocked out in one day. I’m torn between wanting to take a break from marathons for a while and searching out a new marathon in 6-8 weeks during which I can redeem myself. If I can find one that’s nearby, I may pick up training again and give it a shot.

What worries me most from this race is how early and easily I caved in. I had told myself before the race that I would feel like not finishing, I would feel like I couldn’t go on, but I was going to push through it. Didn’t happen. Not even close. I got hot and tired and frustrated and just stopped caring.

On the bright side, I did set a new PR. Not the one I want, but at least it was still an improvement. On the down side, I’m sporting two lovely blisters and will lose at least one toenail. Thank God sandal season is over.

We went out to dinner after the race with everyone from my training team and that was fun. I’ll never regret running simply for the wonderful people I’ve gotten to meet and become friends with.

While I did not have fun during the race, that was my fault. Keeping up with the pace team freaked me out and I know now I do better to use my pace tattoo and pace myself, starting off slow and building my tempo as I feel comfortable. Although I’m bummed, I do realize if my biggest complaint in life is that I didn’t make my marathon time, I’m leading a pretty good life. =) And I am. I’m healthy, I have a wonderful husband, great friends, and a bunch of people who love me even if I don’t have a “3” in front of my marathon time. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Thanks everyone for all the well wishes and support, e-mails and phone calls. Love you all!!!