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Surprise! I Ran The SunTrust Richmond Marathon!

. . . continued from last week after I DNF’d the ING NYC Marathon.

Once I made it to 95th street, mile 18 of the NYC Marathon, I stood there with my boyfriend and friends a few minutes, crying but not leaving, but also not making any real effort to continue. I just wanted to lie down. That is all I had wanted since I entered Manhattan. I thought about pushing through and walking the rest of the race, but not only was I in too much pain to do even that, the thought of getting out of Central Park and having to make my way all the way to Andy’s AFTER I finished was too much to bear. If I finished the race, there would have been too much time between the present moment and getting to lie down. I had to do it now.


[Approximately 5 minutes before things got really, really bad]

I walked off the course of the marathon I spent a year qualifying for and four months training for.

We walked the short distance home and said goodbye to my friends.

We got home and I climbed right into bed. I laid there and cried for a few moments. I thought about all the training I did over the last four months, how much I gave up to get to this point. Not finishing the marathon is one thing, but having done so much work with nothing to show for it? THAT is what I could not handle. I said to Andy, “Can you give me the iPad? I want to look for another marathon.

I thought Andy would tell me I was crazy or acting stupid or irrationally. Instead, he told me that is a great idea and we started researching upcoming marathons. We found the SunTrust Richmond Marathon. The following weekend, on Saturday, November 12.

I was trained. I was not injured. I did not want to spend another week training. Richmond is a six hour car ride. The race got incredible reviews. I registered.

I told no one.

OK that is a little bit of a lie. I told my family, my close friends and my coworkers. But I did not announce it on Facebook or Twitter. I did not tell most people. I did not mention it here even though by the time I wrote last week’s post I was already registered.

Making such a big deal out of NYCM made DNFing that much harder. People were tracking me, tweeting about me, reading my automatic updates on Facebook. They saw me slow down. They knew when my tracking stopped. They wondered what had happened.

I didn’t want people wondering or knowing or feeling invested in any way. I just wanted to run the marathon I trained for. Of course, there was the fear I’d have to go back and publicly admit, yet again, that I failed. But if no one knew, I wouldn’t worry about what other people thought.

And so it was that Andy and I took off work on Friday and drove down to Virginia in a rental car. It’s funny how easy it was to get a spot in this race. I just paid the entry fee and I was in. Drastically different from NYCM where I had to run nine qualifying races and volunteer at one event just to earn my place. The expo was small and overwhelmingly crowded, but I got what I needed, including a brand new headband.

After all, I needed this race to be somewhat different.

The night before the Richmond Marathon, I slept much better than I did the night before NYCM and the days leading up to that. A good sign, because of the many things that went wrong in NYC, I think my overall anxiety about the race was one of the biggest contributing factors to the pain. Anxiety and the stomach have a strong connection.

But to be sure, I did take my acid reflux medicine this time. I also took a swig of Pepto.

    
[Also different? I wore a skirt.]

Like the weekend before in NYC, the weather started out cold. The race began at 8 am and I was surprised to see frost on the car when we went outside.

   

Despite the chill, I felt more comfortable than I did in NYC. There is something that just seems so easy about simply driving to a parking lot near the start of the race and walking over to the corral. I guess that something is the fact that it is easy. No worrying about which transportation time to take, no worrying about how many hours you’ll spend outside in the cold. You just drive to the race and then you are there. I wore my throwaway clothes but I didn’t have a long wait until the start, and I was not cold for long.


[$12 Grinch pajama pants. Was sad to see them go.]

My nerves were considerably less than the week before, evidenced by the fact that I only peed twice at the porta potties. For a nervous peeer like myself, that is a big deal. As for the claim that Richmond is America’s Friendliest Marathon (as emphasized on their website, race shirt and medal), people already started chatting with me like we were old friends.

I said bye to Andy and entered the corral. There were four corrals, but no one was monitoring them and it was easy for me to accidentally walk into the wrong one at first. I realized my error and moved back to Corral 4, for people with an expected finish time of 4:30 and above. I did not want to start with fast runners!

I didn’t hear any national anthem (which I found strange for a place like Richmond, Virginia, although it is entirely possible I just didn’t notice it) or gun shot, but I used my deductive reasoning skills and determined that the the race began because everyone started running.

And then I crossed a marathon start line for the second time in one week.

This marathon starts and finishes in charming historic downtown Richmond, once the capital of the south. The scenic, fast loop course takes in all of the city’s old neighborhoods, traveling up Monument Avenue, past statues of Confederate soldiers and Richmond native and tennis star Arthur Ashe, through the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, then alongside the James River. Along with the typical water and sports drink stops, this is probably the only race in the country that offers junk food stops, at miles 16 and 22, stocked with Gummy Bears, cookies, and soda. There are also two wet-washcloth stations, at miles 17 and 23, perfect for cleaning up for your finish-line photo. Three party zones set up along the way with free food, prize giveaways, and noisemakers for spectators and family means lots of enthusiastic, cheering support. The last mile features a fast downhill to the finish in the trendy Shockoe Slip area, where there are plenty of postrace goodies, including bagels, fruit, and pizza, and a band to celebrate your finish.” – Runners World, 2005

The first couple of miles ran through downtown Richmond, with shops surrounding us. I was more into sizing up the other runners around me than noticing my surroundings. It was interesting listening to everyone’s conversation. I guess I was eavesdropping. The difference is that I knew that if I wanted to interject at any time, I would have been welcomed. Which ended up happening a little later on.

We turned off the main road and there I saw my first Brightroom photographer along the course (I saw a couple at the start). I am really excited to get these photos and I’ll probably bore you all with a post of just those photos next week. Anyway, we turned again onto a beautiful street called Monument Row. The houses were huge and gorgeous, the street was quiet and lined with trees.

This video gives a great overview of the course:

I started chatting with some women. I told them about my NYCM experience and they talked to me about their own training. I saw that I was running just under a 10:30 mile and worried I was too fast. I felt great but worried about burning out too early or injuring myself. Every now and then I would hold myself back from these women because I didn’t want to run at their pace just because I was talking to them.

Around mile 4, a girl in a cute running skirt came up to me and said, “I just read your blog for the first time last week and I think it is amazing that you are out here today.”

I got recognized. By my blog. During a marathon I told no one I was running. WHAT!

This girl who happened to read my post about DNFing in NYC — who informed that she also ran NYC — noticed my pink arm and leg sleeves, and confirmed it by seeing my name on my shirt. I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked, but imagine how surprised she must have been to have read a random blog for the first time and then see the blogger in a race that she didn’t say she was doing!

Another nice burst of energy from that encounter!

After I broke away from Katye, I found myself catching up with those women again; the ones I thought were maybe a little fast for me. It just felt right. So when I saw the 4:45 pace group right in front of me, I excitedly told the woman I was talking to that I’d like to try and keep them in sight for as long as possible. I knew they would be way too fast for me, but figured I could test myself for awhile and see if I could stick with them.

As I ran on their heels, I actually felt like I was walking. It felt slow. Uncomfortably slow. I looked at my watch and it was just over 11:00. Even though that is the pace I hoped to maintain for the entire marathon, it didn’t feel right.

I broke away from the women I was talking to and I broke away from the 4:45 pace group.

I needed to feel comfortable if I was going to do this marathon right, and on this day, running an 11:00 pace did not feel comfortable. That mile with the 4:45 pace group ended up being my slowest mile of the race, and the only mile that hit the 11 on my watch at all.

Non-NYRR races often get blasted for their poor organization efforts but the Richmond Marathon was extremely well organized. As long as you started in the right corral you didn’t need to weave. There were water/Powerade stations every two miles, and every mile after 20. When the stations are every mile, I stop every mile. I liked this spacing because I could maintain a pace and still stay hydrated.

Richmond Marathon - Dori's Shiny Blog

The volunteers were incredible. Later into the race there were two wet washcloth stations and two junk food stations which also served cola.

While the entire course was lined with spectators, the best thing for us out of towners was the step-by-step directions the race provided for spectators to get from the start to each Party Zone at miles 7, 13, 19 and the finish.

Because of this, I knew exactly where I would see Andy.

These party zones were as much for the spectators as they were for the runners. With live bands playing (and many more along the course) , there was food and coffee available for the spectators. How nice is that!

 

And Andy got to meet local celebrity Ros Runner, Richmond’s NBC12 Meteorologist. Fancy!

Because this race was relatively small (3,500 runners compared to NYC’s 47,000) it was easy to see Andy. At mile 7 I stopped to give him a kiss, shout “I am loving this!” and request that he bring my Vaseline to the next party zone. You guys swear by your Body Glide but sorry, it is a hard stick and does not do the trick of my ooey gooey Vaseline. My underarms were chafing and I needed slippery goo.

After I left Andy I ran over some really great downhills and over to the James River. I was looking forward to the river miles ever since spotting this photo on the Richmond Marathon’s website:


[It was even more breathtaking than it looks here.]

I have only run in one other spot as beautiful as this river was, which was in Kirkland, Washington last year. I can’t put into words how amazing it was running along the James River. I felt happier than I have on a run in a very long time.

When I got to the next party zone at mile 13 I was still loving the race. Once again I embraced Andy quickly, smothered Vaseline on and took my next baggie of Shot Bloks from him. I started fueling at mile 5, eating one Shot Blok every 2-3 miles depending on how I felt and when I remembered. I also took both water and Powerade every two miles, walking through the stations and squeezing my cup to create a spout. A really sweet friend who works at New York Road Runners put me in touch with a coach there after my NYC Marathon experience, and she told me runners should never drink from the cup without squeezing it first because that is how air gets swallowed.

Obviously I was extra careful about this. And I’d like to add that in my opinion blue Powerade > yellow Gatorade.

I slowed down for a couple of miles before finding Andy there, but seeing him gave me a burst of energy because when I next looked down at my Garmin, I was under a 10:00 mile. Oops. SLOW DOWN! I said that to myself. Out loud.

I ran my 14th mile in 10:01.

Before this race I heard a lot about the Lee Bridge at the 15th mile being the most difficult part of the race. A mile long and a gradual uphill, they said that many runners struggle through this hardest incline in the race.


[Photo]

A sign placed in the ground just before the bridge: “Make the Lee Bridge your bitch.” I guess I did because I didn’t really find this bridge tough at all. Maybe I am used to the hills of Central Park. Maybe I am used to running back and forth over the Queensboro Bridge — which really is a long, slow, gradual, difficult incline. While the bridge was gradual, it was so gradual that it was never steep. I did put on my music as I approached, for the first time, because it looked like a long road ahead with little crowd support and I thought I’d need a little push. But really, I didn’t find the bridge difficult. I was also fortunate that there was a tailwind that day; usually runners experience a headwind during the marathon. I ran that mile in 10:05.

The Queensboro Bridge is also at mile 15 in NYCM. This felt drastically different and I loved it.

Immediately following the bridge was a short, steep incline that felt more difficult than any step of the Lee Bridge. I guess it’s the steep hills that I mind, but the gradual ones don’t bother me.

I took off my music after that because the crowds were back in full force and also because my music was distracting from my experience. I brought my iPod because I didn’t know if I would need the extra motivation or to zone out, but until mile 15 it never once occurred to me to use it. That’s especially amazing because while training, I relied heavily on my music. I only ever ran without music if I was talking to a friend. This was my first time really running without anything for an extended period of time and I really loved it.

And of course, I did not want to miss anyone shouting my name! Once again there was chanting and I loved it. Also, tons of compliments on my bright pink! Two girls running near me for awhile wore tutus. I thought nothing of it because I see lots of runners in tutus in New York City, so I was surprised to see the crowds go crazy about this! “Tutus! Go tutus! Love the tutus! I used to wear one myself!” That last one came from a guy who was joking. The people loved the tutus. Who knew.

Also wonderful was the bands. Before I got to the river one band was playing The Cranberries’ Zombie. Having learned my lesson the hard way last week, I did not sing along with them. Though it was funny to hear a man singing that. I waved and smiled at every band and I think they liked it, especially the band playing The Beatles. One DJ was cheering for people by number on the microphone, but another called out my name and made a comment about my pink socks. I loved it.

When there wasn’t a band there were often speakers. I even heard some Counting Crows. Rain King. I approved.

At the 18th mile I could not believe the difference in how I felt here compared to the 18th mile one week before. I also could not believe I ran 9 miles in that pain. 18 miles is HARD, even without pain. I knew with certainty that I would finish this marathon. I mean, I knew it earlier too, but I felt comfortable admitting it to myself here. I passed where I was last week. I had this.

Dori's Shiny Blog - Richmond Marathon

I approached the mile 19 Party Zone and couldn’t find Andy among the spectators. I looked carefully and then when the Party Zone was over I felt sad. Either he didn’t make it there for some reason or I somehow missed him. I was planning on handing my iPod to him because I decided I didn’t want it with me when I finished, but after not seeing him I thought I should make the most of the situation and just use it. I don’t think that makes sense in retrospect, but I like justifying things.

Meh. My music was OK because the crowds had thinned, but I didn’t need it and I knew I didn’t need it. I looked up and saw arms waving wildly. It was my sweet Andy!

I ran up to him and said “I thought I missed you!” as you can see in the video here.

I was so happy! He went further down past the Party Zone because of traffic or congestion or something.  I didn’t care. I got to see him! I Vaselined up again, this time on the other side too, and took off before realizing I forgot to give him my iPod. I shouted his name and ran back to hand it to him. Yes, I ran the opposite direction during a marathon, but just for a few seconds.

I made sure to speed up after because I felt so great and knew I could maintain my pace. I was no longer worried about hitting a wall or hurting my knee or my hip. I felt amazing. People were on balconies and on the sidewalks cheering. I saw cheerleaders. People called out my name. Some people shouted out compliments or words of encouragement. The race got more difficult but I felt strong.

We turned into a beautiful private community of homes. From mile 21 on, things got much more difficult. Now, I just wanted to be finished. It stopped being about how amazing I felt and started being about pushing through to the finish. I didn’t want to run anymore but I entered into PDR (personal distance record) territory and it was exciting.

When people cheered for me, I did my best to acknowledge them with a tiny smile and little wave. I stopped saying “Thank you” for the most part and stopped the big waves. The race was getting tough and it was all about getting to the end. There were some small but steep uphills. The crowds were incredible, offering orange slices, doughnuts and beer. Beer?!

At one point, someone shouted “It’s all downhill from here!” YES! I got really excited until a few seconds later when there was a challenging uphill. What the hell!

I pushed on. I felt like I was crawling, but looking at my splits, miles 21-24 were actually some of my fastest of the race. I guess my pushing was working, even though it did not feel like it! I did see a few Brightroom photogs though, and seeing them always gives me a burst of energy.

I did slow during mile 24. I don’t remember much from that mile. During 25, someone else shouted “After this turn, it is all downhill!” We were turning into the downtown area and I got excited. I made that turn and . . . MASSIVE UPHILL.

Seriously people — what the hell!

I know the last half mile is a 700 foot drop downhill, but come on!

It is incredible what your body can do at certain times. Despite the fact that I found those last miles extremely difficult, I not only had enough in me to run mile 26 in 9:53, but look at the split for the last .37 (more than .2 because of any weaving and the run back to give Andy the iPod):

Yes.  8:24 pace for the final push. After already running 26 miles. After DNFing a marathon a week before. After being worried I was running too fast throughout most of the race. After doubting I could even finish under 5:00.

During that last half mile, I felt no pain. All the tiredness, soreness, running on autopilot and hoping for the end disappeared. I don’t know where this energy came from, but I felt light and running felt effortless. I glanced down at my watch and saw my pace was in the 8:50/mile range and I briefly wondered why I don’t always run like that. I felt like I was flying as I ran down the final chute, somehow alone, hearing my name shouted by strangers on all sides of me. Of all the times I heard my name during this marathon, this was by far the most exciting. I knew I looked strong. I knew I was running fast. I knew these people were going crazy cheering because I looked so strong and had a huge smile on my face. Andy was one of these people, but I couldn’t pick him out. I just ran.

As I flew through the finish, I heard the announcer call me Doris. Not my name, but funny! What I did not hear at the time was Brown Eyed Girl playing through the speakers; the same song that I chose to sing while running the NYC Marathon. The same song that might have caused me to swallow some extra air. Also, my Bat Mitzvah video montage song. That has to mean something. Or not.

Dori's Shiny Blog - Richmond Marathon

I floated through the finish. Really, I floated through my first full marathon.

In 4:33:29.

About 25 minutes faster than I hoped or expected. My goal was to finish under 5:00, even if it meant 4:59. It is possible that I underestimate myself.

I do believe that things happen for a reason. At least, that is how I justify the good things in my life, the things that work out.

If I never got that freak pain during the NYC Marathon and I finished that race, I would have stayed with my friend for just under 5 hours and not listened to my body’s own cues. I never would have known what I was capable of running a 4:33 marathon. I never would have traveled to Richmond for the first time; never would have experienced a gorgeous new city by running 26.2 miles through it; never would have had the most idealistic, fun, exhilarating run of my life.


[Also easy about Richmond: Andy right on the other side of the barricade after I finished. Also, pizza there? Who wants that!]

I finished a marathon!!! My training was not for nothing and I did so much better than I ever thought I would!

No hip pain, no knee pain. My left knee actually hurt during NYCM when everything fell apart, but I  think my legs just had to work much harder since my body was under fueled and in pain. I’m also much less sore this week after 26.2 than last week after 18. And I suppose I am not too pale to run a marathon after all.

I know NYC is said to be the greatest marathon in the world and that is probably true. But as someone who grew up in Queens and has lived in Manhattan for the last six years, I can tell you that the race is ugly. Aside from breathtaking views of the city while running over the Verrazano Bridge and of course the miles through Central Park, the race is run through city streets. Buildings, concrete. Lots to see in terms of costumes, spectators and bands — but not a lot of scenery.


[Finished!]

By contrast, Richmond was just a beautiful race. We ran past gorgeous stately old homes, monuments, alongside a stunning river, through lots of tree lined streets and past colleges. I didn’t need music because there was so much to take in and the crowd support was phenomenal without being overwhelming.

There were motivating and humorous signs placed throughout the course, which was especially awesome in spots with no spectators, like by the river. I wish I remembered these signs so I could share with you, but I don’t.

It was so thoughtful of the people drove the course sticking these signs along the way. Better than a person cheering in some cases and very much appreciated during the quieter miles without spectators.

Richmond Marathon - November 12, 2011

Have I mentioned that I loved every single second of this race? I never once felt bored and there was just so much to take in. I highly recommend the Richmond Marathon to those looking for a fall marathon next year.

    

I bought a finisher’s shirt, which I am wearing above, for $10 in the tent after the finish line. I somehow didn’t get a heat wrap even though everyone else around me did!

And then I ate all the pancakes at Cracker Barrel.

   

And modeled my medal a bit more.

I am so happy. I can’t stop smiling and this marathon is the only thing I ever want to talk about. But apparently my coworkers would like to discuss other topics, such as work.

I was a wreck last week. Even though I had already signed up for Richmond when I wrote that post, I was in a pretty rough place and your comments helped me more than you can imagine. People that read my blog regularly and people that never read before left incredible comments and sent emails of encouragement and support. I thought I was finished crying last Tuesday, but your comments and emails made me cry some more. Happy tears!

It is hard having a blog and using social media and putting yourself out there this much. I was embarrassed to have to write that post, but because of you, it was worth it. I needed to hear positive things about my experience. I needed to know that I didn’t do anything wrong. I needed to know that DNFs happen to other people.  I needed to know that you weren’t judging me. I needed to know that you did not see me as a failure.

Running such a strong marathon has definitely changed my perspective about running. I didn’t do any speedwork while training because I was coming back from an injury. Now I wonder what I have in me if I worked harder. I didn’t do much cross training towards the last couple of months. I wonder about that too. This marathon also showed me that the logistics do not have to be stressful and a huge race like NYCM might not be right for me. I was so stressed before NYCM about being cold outside for a long time, transportation and even the process of getting out of the park after. As I said before, anxiety and the stomach are intertwined. The ease of this marathon was much better suited to my personality.

I know I said I don’t want to devote for months to training ever again. But I am a competitive person and I know how strong I felt at the finish, how much less sore I am right now than I expected. It is hard to think about working so hard for 26.2 knowing that the unexpected can happen and derail me. But maybe one day. Maybe I’ll work harder for my next half marathon and see what I can do there first. I ran my half marathon PR of 2:06 without much training. Maybe I should make a new goal for 13.1 and take it from there.

I never loved running as much as I do right now. I am a marathoner.


122 thoughts on “Surprise! I Ran The SunTrust Richmond Marathon!

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  2. Dori, I am so proud of you. I remember when I was following your twitter feed during the marathon and hearing that you stopped, I know that disappoints happens sometimes but you did not let it stop you from entering another marathon and doing the best you could do. You are always an inspiration to me, idk what it is but you make me want to workout even harder than I do. Thanks. Maybe one day we can take a CF class together like we planned.

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  13. I just teared up reading this post! I read your NYCM 2011 post 1st and then this one. What a story of resilience and triumph and NEVER GIVING UP! So many people would not have had the courage to give it another shot. I’m so happy you were not one of those people. It’s absolutely, 100%, inspiring Dori! This is an amazing story. I hope everyone running Richmond next weekend, because NYCM was canceled, reads this first! I think it just may be what cheers them up and once again gets them excited for 26.2 next week.

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  15. I’m so glad you had such a fabulous experience in Richmond, my town. I did the half marathon and loved it, too. Highlight of my year. I’m the content curator at FitFramed.com and I’d be honored if you’d submit this (and some of your other great posts) to our site. As a blogger-submitted, photo gallery with a focus on fitness, Fit Framed offers a unique platform to reach new readers. Check it out.

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  19. Hi,

    I just ran NYC and I was googling NYCM blog posts when I came to yours. I felt so bad for you and then I had to see if you did run a marathon. One week later, very impressive. I know it’s been a while now, but I hope it brings back incredible memories. You inspire me. Congrats on becoming a marathoner and many more!

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