Last Sunday, the day after the Richmond Half Marathon, Andy and I were in our car on the way home. Riding my post-PR (spoiler alert) high and loving Richmond more than ever, I opened the browser on my iPhone. I went to RichmondMarathon.com. I reviewed the special limited-time prices. And then I — the girl who adamantly insisted she would never run another marathon (often to you, readers, right here in the comments section of this blog or over private email), the girl at times was annoyed by your seemingly smug all-knowingness, the girl who just fell in love with Richmond’s relatively shorter 13.1 mile race — registered for the 2013 Anthem Richmond Marathon.
Let’s start from the beginning.
On November 6, 2011 I attempted to run my dream marathon, my only marathon – the ING New York City Marathon. I had to drop out 18 miles in when I finally got to my friends, after running 9 of those miles in excruciating pain. The pain was a fluke. I felt it once before and never since, but it derailed me on what I thought would be one of the most exciting days of my life. I worked really hard to get to that starting line – I trained as best as I could while being cognizant of a recent hip injury, getting in every single long run (including two 20-milers) as well as my early morning weekday training runs.
I arrived home after my DNF, crying and upset over my failure. I changed into comfy clothes, got into bed and registered for the Richmond Marathon taking place a week later. There, I ran the perfect marathon I trained for. I had the best 4 hours and 33 minutes of my life (well, aside from my engagement) and fell in love with Richmond in the process. The people were all so nice and welcoming, the course so gorgeous and interesting, the crowd support phenomenal, the spectator party zones entertaining, the race so easy on the uphills (or so I thought until every runner this year cursed the day I was born). Andy teared up as he watched me cross the finish line, as I finally achieved the one thing I wanted so much: to be a marathoner.
Our time in Richmond was special and we decided on our way back that day to return the following year, and maybe even every year as a tradition to celebrate an amazing weekend.
A few months later I registered for the American Family Fitness Half Marathon. We decided to stay for a full weekend so we could see more of Richmond, since we left right after the marathon to drive back home the last time.
And that brings us to the weekend of November 10, 2012.
Richmond was different this year. After the New York City Marathon was canceled, over 800 displaced runners registered for Richmond. A number of them were my friends. It was bittersweet for me. The sweet was that everyone else would finally understand how fantastic Richmond was! I wouldn’t have to keep preaching its awesomeness and raving about how well organized and simple it all was. I could share my Richmond experiences with people who feel the same!
The bitter was that Richmond was my and Andy’s place. I felt an ownership of it as an attempted New York City Marathoner, and I felt like this year’s attempted NYCMers with encroaching MY race. It was also a place that was very much mine and Andy’s as a couple, and I worried that the festivities of the weekend would take away from that.
All selfishness aside, I was more happy than not that my friends would be there. I was happy to see them in Richmond, but I turned down any requests to drive down together. That road trip means a lot to me and Andy, and it was something that would remain ours.
After a much smoother drive down than last year, we arrived at the expo much earlier and with plenty of time to browse. And browse I did. The expo seemed a lot better than last year (although it might be because I was there to buy things this year, and I was there before the after work crowds made it crazy).
At the expo I bought an I Run Richmond logo shirt for Andy (they didn’t have the one I wanted in my size), I Run Richmond logo socks for both me and Andy, two headbands (one with the I Run Richmond logo – see a pattern here?), Margarita ShotBloks (many of you love them, I found it gross) and a travel foam roller (cute, but it only works if you actually use it).
I also met the #RunChat boys!
The Richmond Marathon runs right past the expo, so just being on that road brought back so many marathon memories. I realized that the more of the course I saw again, the more nostalgia I would feel. The more I forgot would come back to me. I was so happy about my decision to go back to Richmond.
After the expo, Andy and I checked into our hotel. The room was absurdly large and the bathroom almost unusably tiny. It was smaller than my really small NYC apartment bathroom. Even though we booked out hotel in July, by then all the main hotels had already booked up. For 2013 we will do it right!
We walked through downtown Richmond to a recommended italian restaurant near our hotel called Edo’s Squid. We went early to beat the crowds. On our way back, I saw something I haven’t seen since somewhere in the last few miles of the marathon course last year: IHOP EXPRESS! Yes, such a place exists and of course we had to check it out.
[THIS IS A THING THAT EXISTS.]
After recognizing this part of the marathon course, I got even more excited for my own race the following day and for all my friends who would be running the marathon.
Back at the hotel, I fell asleep only to wake up around 1 am in pain. My stomach was killing me. I felt really sick and could barely move. I was awake for a very long, very frustrating time. I probably fell back asleep around 4:30 am only to have my alarm go off at 5:30. Thankfully, I felt so much better when I woke up. I wasn’t even that worried about how my lack of sleep would affect my race.
[I feel like Andy always takes this exact photo of me before a race. See the adorable yellow travel foam roller.]
Speaking of my race, you might know I broke the 2:00 half marathon barrier in the Newport Liberty Half Marathon in Jersey City. In the weeks between that race and Richmond, I struggled with my training. I dreaded weekend long runs, and took my time to even start doing them after Newport. I did a short run maybe once a week during the week, but that was about it. I didn’t enjoy my runs and I worried a lot about if I’d even be able to run the Richmond Half Marathon. I considered dropping down to the 8K, but after a successful 11-mile run the day before Hurricane Sandy I felt confident I could complete 13.1.
On the car ride to Richmond I even tweeted that I had a very ambitious goal for this race. My goal was to PR. Break 1:59:49. Come in under 1:59 if possible. Did I work to get that goal? No. But I know me and I know Richmond and I know me at Richmond. If I could achieve an absurd goal anywhere, it was here.
I had a plan: Start the race with the 2:00 pace group. Hope to keep up. At mile 11 or 12, break free and book it to the finish line.
Andy and I walked to the start line from our hotel. Even though we didn’t get one of the super close hotels we wanted, we were still lucky to find one less than a mile away. It was not nearly as cold as last year, and I did not need this ridiculous Snuggie.
After a quick stop at 7-Eleven to get Pepto for me (I felt like coating my stomach would be good after the pain of the night before) and hot chocolate for Andy, we were on our way, surrounded by lots of runners. I realized I forgot my Nike+ SportWatch GPS in the hotel room. I freaked out for maybe 10 seconds before I let it go (which is huge for me because I am generally nuts).
I was already debating if I even wanted to run with a watch at all and before I left New York, I set the home screen to not even show me my pace or milage – just the clock. I didn’t want to be a crazy obsessive “I have .25 miles left in this mile, and .25 left in a mile three more times during this race” psycho person that I tend to be. I was hoping I could enjoy this race a little more, and as long as I had a pace group with me I’d know I wasn’t going out too fast or too slow.
Andy took this opportunity to embarrass me publicly.
The race was about to start, so I kissed Andy goodbye and joined the 2:00 pace group. Like the Richmond Marathon last year, the half marathon start was easy and uneventful. There’s no National Anthem (which I find funny being in Virginia and all), and no horns or loud sounds to signify the start. Someone just tells each wave when to run, and they run.
I like it.
I felt excited and happy in my corral, chatting with a couple of people around me. Both the corral system and the wave system worked perfectly, and my 2:00 pace group began the race without any terrible crowding. The first couple of miles of the half marathon course are the same as the marathon course, and I was overwhelmed with nostalgia and memories of the last time I ran this street. I remembered exactly where we turned left for the marathon course (we turn right for the half) and I remembered the quick right after that. I remembered seeing the stores on this first street, which had an entirely different feel now that I knew where I was in relation to my hotel – and I was very close to it!
During that first mile I spotted the Ander! HI THE ANDER!!
So like I mentioned before, I recognized these first couple of miles really well and I was brought right back to my marathon last year. I ran right next to the pace group leader and learned more about how pacing works. She explained that we run a little faster than our goal time for two reasons: (1) so we can slow down at water stops and not lose time and (2) so we can finish 30 seconds ahead of 2:00. After all, it would suck being in the 2:00 pace group and finishing in 2:00:01.
She also told me she practiced running at this exact pace for a month – and she doesn’t wear a watch!
The first few miles sped by. They felt easy. Very easy, especially considering I was running at a fast-for-Dori pace. I was able to take in the sights, make conversation and still have lots of energy. When we made that right turn (at the spot the full marathon goes left) we were right in front of the expo again. I KNOW THIS PLACE!
The best part was that each mile went by so smoothly that I realized forgetting my watch was a blessing in disguise. I was enjoying every mile without thinking about how much time I had left in said mile. I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. For the first time in a long time (possibly since last year’s marathon), I was running to enjoy running. I didn’t have my own brain holding me back and turning me into crazy Dori.
Our pace group leader shouted words of encouragement, called out to the runners behind us whenever there was a pothole, hill or uneven road, called out and signaled with her arm whenever we made a turn, told cheesy jokes ‘Does anyone know what type of hill this is?’ I don’t remember the answer, but it was funny) and called out when she saw a water station approaching.
I was still running right alongside the group easily when we made our way into Bryan Park during the fifth mile. We tackled a small uphill together and as we descended back down I felt great. Really great. So great that I broke away and never looked back.
After all, it shouldn’t have been that easy.
I reached the 10K point at 55:52. This is awesome to me because up until this year, my 10K PR was 56:05 and I remember how brutally fast that run felt.
The park was beautiful; the perfect place to run in the fall. We ran past a band and spectators before we reached mile 7. I knew the half marathon spectator Party Zone was at mile 7 but I didn’t see Andy, and I was confused that it was not yet mile 7. I figured he had trouble getting there and while I felt disappointed, I was more concerned that he was freaking out with fear that I would be angry at him.
We agreed that he would be on the right side but when I didn’t see him I let myself migrate into the middle.
I continued around the end of the lollipop and back up, hitting mile 7, seeing the real Party Zone and suddenly there was Andy! He was waving at me!
I got as close to him as I could, shouted “TAKE MY GLOVES!” and threw them in his face.
I meant to tell Andy I was definitely going to PR. I meant to tell him I was feeling incredible. But instead, I threw gloves at him.
Andy particularly loved this Party Zone because he heard the band play what sounded like the beginning of Shakedown Street by the Grateful Dead. He figured it could not possibly be that song – but it was!
Only in Richmond, friends.
I left the park and the race got hard. When I saw the Mile 8 marker, I started to feel ready for the running to end. Our pace group leader had told us earlier that science says at a certain point, your body gets tired and tells your brain it’s time to stop running. Then it is up to your brain to override your body and push through. Or something like that. It was definitely science.
This was my time to push.
My biggest issue was my left knee. A very old patella femoral pain, an injury that started long before I ever thought to run, suddenly came back into my life. It hurts on the outside of my knee. Downhills and down stairs make it feel worse, but now, the pain was constant. I knew I was getting limpy but I also knew I was a good distance in front of the 2:00 pace group. If I could just continue as I was, I would PR.
Even though I was hurting, I felt confident. We ran through a community of nice houses, along the same course as the last six miles of the marathon. I recognized it. We ran past people handing out beer and I was surprised to see people actually take it. Gross!
Speaking of drinking, I stopped at every single water station. Around mile 8, I started taking both water and Powerade. I brought three ShotBloks with me but I wasn’t hungry, and after the stomach pains of the night before plus the nausea I felt after eating a ShotBlok at the Newport Half Marathon, I didn’t want to take any chances. But I figured I fuel would help me through these last difficult miles and the Powerade was definitely fine.
I meant to get my thoughts down as soon as I got home the next day, I really meant to. But I didn’t because I am lazy, so my memory of these miles is pretty hazy. I do remember thinking, as the miles started to feel longer and longer from 10-12, that I was so glad I didn’t have my watch. While I had no idea where my pace was, I knew that if I could see the miles slowly move by I would have felt discouraged. My brain would have left the game.
Richmond prints our names on our bibs, and I appreciated the people who cheered me by name at this time. I needed it!
Instead, I was hurting but I was also passing people. Someone even tweeted me later to tell me she saw me pass her at Mile 11 looking strong. I guarantee I wasn’t feeling strong, but without my watch fucking with my head, I was acting strong.
In every race — even short ones — I have the moment where I seriously consider quitting. But during this race, no matter how tough it got, I never felt that way. I knew I’d finish and I knew I’d PR.
We ran past the IHOP Express, which was now located on familiar territory. I liked knowing that this meant the race was almost over. We were back downtown. I recognized this both from last year’s marathon and last night’s walk. My Richmond worlds were colliding and I loved it.
Someone yelled out “half a mile to go – you’re almost done!” and while I normally get annoyed at people exaggerating how much of the race is left, I trusted this guy to be right. It felt right. I had no watch but my body felt like I was at 12.6 miles, if that makes any sense.
And a minute later, someone else shouted “four tenths of a mile to go!”
I thought, “With a number so exact, this guy definitely knows what he is talking about!”
That pumped me up and it was then I forgot about my knee pain. I ran and passed people. I saw the finish line ahead. This year they moved it to a new location and while last year’s was a downhill finish, this year was even more of a downhill finish. There was no way to sprint to the end because I would have fallen right over, but I loved coasting down to finish! Despite the fact that my knee pain is exacerbated on downhills, I was still able to coast. I didn’t feel at all nauseous or struggling like I did at Newport when I set my last PR. I felt great.
I looked around to try and find Andy in the crowds but I couldn’t see him. As I crossed the finish I almost wasn’t sure it WAS the finish. There was not much fanfare or excitement. I was running, and then I was not.
But I was finished. I PR’d but I had no idea my time. I felt amazing.
I got my medal and one of the volunteers handing out medals saw my name on my bib and exclaimed, “Dori! I read your blog!”
That was awesome. The perfect end to the perfect race!
The finishers’ area on Browns Island was amazing. Last year, the race finished on a regular street and there was no real place for people to gather. This time, there was a huge grassy area in the sun for runners to congregate, get food and drinks, post race massages and goodies, and buy finisher’s gear.
Andy and I didn’t think to set a meeting spot so I waited near the finisher’s gear for purchase, knowing he would find me there. Eventually, he did.
“Congratulations on your PR!” he told me. I knew I PR’d but I still had no idea what my time was! I had nothing with me. Andy told me my time and I checked my runner alerts on my phone (I tracked myself) and saw the magic number:
MAJOR PR!!! Average pace 8:58/mile. I can’t believe it! Just last year I was shocked to finish the Queens Half Marathon in 2:06, surprised to run every mile under 10:00. And now, just over a year later, I beat that time by nine minutes! I beat my first half marathon time, 2.5 years ago, by 21 minutes. And I felt so much better than after the Newport Half Marathon, where I killed myself in the last mile to finish under 2:00. This entire race felt much easier than that one, the entire time – despite my knee pain.
It was just easier. And fun. With incredible crowd support every step of the way. The course brought me to different places than the full marathon with just the right amount of overlap for nostalgia’s sake.
Racing in Richmond is magical. I don’t know why exactly, it’s a combination of everything I guess – but when I run here I have the best time of my life. I forget that just a week before I hated running. I forget that during my last half marathon, I told myself I was done with distance running, that I’d focus on getting faster in shorter races next year.
Because why would I want to do that when I can run longer distances and have the best time of my life? This 1:57:24 was amazing, the entire time. I wanted to stay inside it, even when I wanted the race to end. I wanted to be back inside my 4:33 of the marathon the year before.
Also, I LOVE running with a pace group! I’ll definitely do this again in Richmond next year and in any race that has them. I also don’t want to wear my watch for most races. I can’t tell you how much more enjoyable this half marathon was both without the watch and with the pace group. This ensured I started at just the right speed and didn’t burn out. It kept my pace consistent for the first 6 miles so that I could break free when I felt ready and negative split the shit out of this race.
After, Andy and I stood by the Richmond Marathon finish line cheering my friends Ashley, Jess and Fiona to their finishes – I wanted that to be me. I saw all these people finish the marathon and I wanted to finish a marathon in Richmond again.
Even though I secretly completed my NYRR9+1 requirement to get into the 2013 New York City Marathon this year, even though I have a blog post in my drafts folder right now that I wrote back in October about how insanely jealous I felt about everyone running NYCM this year and my wanting badly to do it next year, even after renewing my NYRR membership right before Hurricane Sandy – being back in Richmond, in my happy running place, made me realize how much I DON’T want to run in that race. And of course after the NYRR NYC Marathon debacle this year, I could not find it in me to support them anyway.
Why would I give hundreds of dollars to a company that can’t bother to communicate with its members when I could give $65 to a company that is always responsive, always friendly, always welcoming and always extremely well organized. Plus, if I decide for any reason to drop down to the half, I’ll still have saved money by signing up for the full now.
I couldn’t believe how seamlessly the Richmond Marathon incorporated 800-1,000 last-minute NYCM runners into their race. You never would have known that they got a sudden influx, it was run so well. I am so impressed not only with their organization, but with their friendliness to these runners. Instead of feeling anger that NYers are taking over their race, they feel grateful that NYers will know why they love Richmond so much.
I was in the unique position of being quite possibly the only ‘failed’ New York City Marathon running in Richmond in 2011 to seeing many others in 2012. And it only reinforced how much I love running there.
As my memories came back to me from 2011 in jolts as I passed by spots on the marathon course, I wanted more. I want to remember more of the course. I’m sad I don’t remember every part and I want to remember every part.
[Me and Ashley. She is hot and PR'd and ran her half time in the same as me only she ran the full. See my I Run Richmond headband?]
And so I took advantage of a great deal and I paid less for the 2013 Anthem Richmond Marathon than I did for this half marathon! Andy and I will have another chance to “try and see more of Richmond” since this trip ended up being “see more of the inside of a Richmond hotel room.”
We’ll be even closer to the race start too. Every year we go back and we do Richmond better than the year before. I am so glad so many NYC friends got to see the amazingness that is running in Richmond.
But it’s still my and Andy’s place.
We really love Richmond.
I also want to race. Last year, I ran to finish and I didn’t really push myself. I’m thrilled with my time and I don’t regret my decision. I was cautious during training because I was recovering from my hip injury, so I didn’t attempt speedwork or tempos or hill work.
Now, I know I am capable of more. I’m insanely excited for next year’s marathon. I might have registered using my married-as–of-June-2013 name so it shows up correctly in the Richmond Times Dispatch.
My goal is 4:15. And if there’s anywhere I can do it, it is in Richmond.