I tried writing this recap sooner but I needed time to process the many emotions I have about this year’s Richmond Marathon.
After 19 weeks of training, including the Portland Marathon-as-training-run, I can tell you before I get into the details the following about my third year at Richmond:
- I did PR at Richmond (an annual occurrence – seriously, magical)
- I did not meet my goal
- I wish I could be happy about my PR but I feel so much disappointment
I’m reading a book right now called 100 Marathons: Memories and Lessons from Races Run Around the World. In it, Jeff Horowitz says, “I came to realize that if I ever should cross a finish line and feel disappointed over my time and my performance, then the marathon would no longer be a transcendent event for me.”
And the thing is, I’m not disappointed over my time OR my performance. I’m disappointed that I didn’t have control over my time or performance starting with the onset of my knee pain at mile 14.
But all that does is make me want to be as smart about recovery now as possible so I can run a better marathon in July. I’m getting ahead of myself; I’ll start from the beginning.
The day before the race
Andy, Larry and I drove down to Richmond, Virginia for the third year in a row (Year 1 marathon and Year 2 half marathon). We coincidentally arrived at the expo at the exact same time as Danielle and Amelia, so I walked around with them. I changed my corral to a faster one which was (1) easy and (2) didn’t matter because start area ended up being a big jumble. I bought a new headband, got my soft and flattering free marathon long sleeve tech tee, picked up some more ShotBloks and a t-shirt and was good to go.
We went out to a nice pasta dinner and were all back in our hotels by 8:00 pm.
I woke up to pee at 2:30 (I was AWESOME at hydrating, and by awesome I mean I spent an entire paycheck on coconut water) and never fell back to sleep. This obviously caused panic because who wants to race exhausted, but there was nothing I could do. I finished my book, checked the weather reports (PERFECT forecast) and waited for 6am to arrive so I could start getting ready.
And then it was time. I showered (I always shower before a race or long run to warm up the muscles), ate a Smooth Caffeinator PickyBar, drank a coconut water and got dressed. The weather report was still looking awesome — it had rained overnight, and the race forecast boasted 55 degrees and sun. Since it wasn’t cold, I decided to forgo my throwaway hoodie, pants and gloves, and wear only my throwaway robe.
When I was all ready, Andy, Larry and I headed down to the hotel lobby which was packed with so many runners! It was amazing! We stepped outside and into . . . rain.
Rain??! Do I go back to the room and get my hoodie? I hate getting wet. I packed a hat and visor in case the forecast suggested rain during the race, do I put those on? Another check of the forecast showed that it still was not supposed to rain throughout the morning so we decided to just make our way to the start.
We didn’t know where the start was, but followed my foolproof strategy of “follow the crowd.” Within a few minutes we were by the race starts and I hopped onto a porta potty line.
On the line, I got a number of compliments on my decision to wear a robe. While I normally would agree — yes, I AM smart! — by this time the rain was coming down hard and I was deeply upset about not having my hoodie.
This bathroom line took so much longer than the lines I waited on the last two times I was in Richmond (made better by Hoka-wearing man who struck up a conversation with me about my Hokas) that by the time it was finally my turn, we were only a few minutes away from the start.
Andy and Larry walked me over to the start.
I didn’t see any signs for designated corrals; in fact, the entire scene looked like a big jumble. I spotted the 4:00 pace group and hopped in near them – but not too close.
Though it was around that time that Andy realized my “if all goes perfectly” secret hope for this one…
I didn’t hear anything to start the race – no anthem, no announcements, no gun shot, no horn. Seemingly out of nowhere, everyone started running and that is how I started the 2013 Richmond Marathon!
As soon as I crossed the start mats my eyes teared up. I was doing this. I was running my THIRD (!!!!) marathon, back in my happy place.
But why was it still raining?
The first mile went smoothly, and during the second the rain got harder. I tried so hard to focus on the positive and not let the unexpected weather get me down. I’d never done a long run in the rain (not on purpose, it just worked out that way) and I really would have worn my hat or visor if I knew it would be like this! Instead, I carried my sunglasses (HA) in my hand and just kept moving along, trying not to focus on how cold the rain was or how uncomfortable I felt.
While my plan was to begin the race conservatively and start out with a 9:32 pace (to bring me to the top of my goal range, 4:10), my watch is always all over the place in real time. It’s always off and is very frustrating.
I actually was so close to just getting the new Garmin 220 at the expo, but I knew worrying about learning how to use a new watch on race day would just add unnecessary stress. And, I can trade in my old Garmin to save money on the new one.
So, I was stuck with my Nike watch on this day and looking down, I saw 10:00.
But I did glide by in what felt like a very comfortable place. Based on the conversations I heard around me, people were hoping to finish around 4:00. I didn’t know their strategies, but figured if they were also starting off slower I was probably right where I should be.
1 – 8’59″/mi
2 – 9’04″/mi
3 – 9’18″/mi
When my watch beeped for mile 1 (it’s off in real time but accurate in the split) I was like “shit.” I knew I needed to slow down, no matter how easy this felt.
The rain picked up in the second mile and I became even more uncomfortable. There was nothing I could do, so I just kept moving, trying to slow down a little bit without losing too much time.
When the marathon course turns left during the second mile, the half marathon course turns right and I thought about how I felt at this point last year — nostalgic for the marathon, wishing I was turning left and experiencing the Richmond Marathon once again!
I love miles 2-3 because we run on Monument Ave, where there are gorgeous old homes to see. Here, I was able to slow down and try to conserve some energy.
It was also around here I began feeling lonely. I was listening to people’s conversations, but I felt very much alone. I felt overwhelmed by how many miles I had to go while I felt ibbledick (Yiddish word meaning ‘out of sorts.’)
I felt myself slowing down, though I was pleased to see I was still ahead of my target pace for this point in the marathon. I did have one painful problem — it felt like I tied my right shoe too tightly. My foot hurt and felt numb. I debated pulling over and loosening my shoe, but ultimately decided to stick it out because (1) didn’t want to lose time (2) it wasn’t THAT bad (3) I could always do it later on if it was affecting my pace but since (4) it wasn’t affecting my pace I knew I could push through some discomfort.
I didn’t remember miles 4 and 5 from the last time I ran this race, so running through them was a strange de ja vu as the memories came back to me.
I did start to understand why my friends were mad at me last year for saying Richmond was mostly flat. As we scaled each hill, I was like, “fuck.” They were short-lasting but definitely tough.
Sorry, friends. You’re right.
I didn’t know what to do with my sunglasses. I held them in my hand when the rain was coming down hard, tried to wear them when it wasn’t, wiped them on my shirt to get the fog out. The forecast, as I mentioned earlier, predicted sunny and 55. But I felt silly for having sunglasses!
4 – 9’21″/mi
5 – 9’27″/mi
6 - 9’23″/mi
I managed to push through despite what I believe was a significant hill around mile 6. Up until then, I was biding my time to mile 7 where I would see my sweet Andy and pupface Larry.
What I didn’t see? Mickey and Minnie just a few steps in front of me. I am so oblivious!
In this photo, I’m telling Andy that instead of giving me my second round of ShotBloks at Mile 13 as we discussed, I probably wouldn’t need them until Mile 19. Why I couldn’t just smile and wave is beyond me. I did the same thing the next time I saw him, too.
Missing in all (but one) of my race photos is that truly ecstatic having-the-best-time-of-my-life smile you usually see in me at races. You can see it in my Richmond Marathon 2011 and Portland Marathon 2013 photos.
I was so worried during this race, even before things got bad. Worried I wouldn’t effectively communicate to Andy about the ShotBloks (what does it matter??), worried about feeling so alone, worried that despite my consistent pace things felt tough, worried about what might happen in later miles.
I did try to enjoy the race, though. When I saw Andy and Larry at mile 7, I forgot all my worries and felt amazing for that moment. After I left the boys (a super fast mile not only because of him but because it was ALL downhill), I ran on and right over a bridge I didn’t remember well from the last time.
7 – 8’40″/mi
8 – 9’11″/mi
Once again I felt lonely; the bridge felt long; the climb felt difficult; the spectators were gone. This was a lonely time in the race, but when I heard a band playing The Cranberries’ Zombie I felt transported right back to 2011. I heard the same exact music in the same exact spot, and suddenly I was excited to get down this hill into familiar, remembered, territory!
I picked up the pace to get down the hill and around the bend to begin our run alongside the river. I’d been looking forward to this part – it was so breathtakingly beautiful in 2011!
Unfortunately, the rain and fog clouded the river views this year. While it was still nice to run along, you couldn’t see that kick-you-in-the-gut beauty. I felt bad for everyone running this race for the first time – they were missing out!
I trudged along, reading all the signs I remembered from the last time (Richmond does an amazing job sticking signs in places without many spectators). The race didn’t feel easy, but as each mile ticked by and my pace remained constant, I knew I would be able to keep this up for the rest of the race.
Even when I felt like I was slowing down, my splits were right on target. I tried to conserve my energy here so I’d be able to pick it for the last 8 miles as I discussed with my coach.
9 – 9’10″/mi
10 – 9’25″/mi
11 – 9’40″/mi
I remember a really intense uphill that lasted forever. I couldn’t even pick up my pace on the downhill following it because the ground was wet and the hill was so steep that I was terrified I’d topple right over. I was just trying to maintain my balance.
I clearly remember seeing my Mile 11 split and thinking to myself, “This will be my slowest split during this race.”
HAHAHAHAHHHAHAHA. I am funny.
12 - 9’32″/mi
13 - 9’28″/mi
Somewhere around here I saw a guy with a The Oatmeal “I believe in the Blerch” shirt. I also someone wearing one at the Portland Marathon!
After the halfway mark, I thought “OK, do that exact same thing again and you’re good.” I didn’t feel great, I still felt off and lonely and ibbledick but my pace was even and I just had to get through this race. My right shoe too tight sensation was bothering me, but I figured if I lasted 2:02 with it I could do that again.
Yes, by the way, my half marathon split was 2:02 and this is amazing to me. 2:02 is a fast half marathon! If I were to negative split, it would be insanely awesome. If I were to run the same thing a second time, I’d be under my goal. And it was only two years ago that I pushed so hard and was so proud of myself for a 2:06 half marathon — and this was faster than that with far less effort. Also, my first half marathon ever was 2:18.
Anyway, at this time in the race I was wet and my hair was frizzy and all I could do was count down the miles until the next Party Zones so I could see my boys.
But as I ran through the Party Zone right before 13 miles, getting a boost from all the spectators, music and cheers, my boys were nowhere to be found. Did we miss each other? Where they there? Did they get lost?
Should I be annoyed? Worried?
I was upset I didn’t get the boost from seeing them since I’d been looking forward to it, but there was nothing I could do but keep moving.
As soon as I ran past the Mile 14 sign, I felt a sharp pain on the outside of my left knee. The same pain that killed me during the last 7 miles of the Portland Marathon six weeks before.
I didn’t think it was a real injury at the time. It didn’t hurt on my first run back from PDX, but it did on the second. After that, I didn’t feel that sharp pain again.
But my knee never felt right either. I had pain that moved around my knee during many of my runs. Because the pain wasn’t sharp and moved around (generally a good sign) I thought it was just muscle tightness/overuse. I had a few sports massages to try and loosen up my tight quads and hamstrings.
I was actually shocked during the first half of the race by how strong my knee felt – there was no sign of weirdness at all, even though something felt off during my training runs (even if it wasn’t necessarily pain). Maybe it was in my head? I thought. But here, at Mile 14, the absolute sharpest of the pain returned. There is no way to not slow down from this knee pain.
14 – 9’27″/mi
15 – 9’26″/mi
16 – 9’40″/mi
I somehow managed to maintain my pace for miles 14 and 15, but it wasn’t pretty.
We ran over the Lee Bridge from miles 15-16. I wasn’t scared of the incline because I remember being surprised at how gradual it was back in 2011. That year, I’d braced myself for the worst and was pleasantly surprised by how “un-hill like” this bridge was.
This year, I struggled on this bridge big time. There was a few reasons: very few spectators (but a huge thank you to those who cheered in the middle of the bridge in the rain!), a very long bridge ahead of me, that feeling of loneliness and my increasingly debilitating knee pain.
During the 16th mile I saw Andy and Larry up ahead! What?! After not seeing them at the mile 13 Party Zone, I figured I wouldn’t find them again until the next Party Zone near mile 20. But here they were at mile 16! How did they get here? Why were they here?
I was so happy to see them, but I still wasn’t ready for my second round of ShotBloks so once again all I have are photos of me talking. WHY CAN’T I JUST SMILE AND WAVE?
I asked Andy if I’d see him again in a few miles and he said he was planning on it. I told him my knee was hurting and then kept going.
By this mile, I was hurting too much to maintain my pace. When I saw the same split as mile 11 — when I told myself that would be THE slowest — I knew that this time, I was losing what I built up until this point. I felt glad I started out a little faster and had some time in the bank because I didn’t think I could stick to my target pace anymore. I knew that mile 16 was the beginning of many miles slower than 9:32.
When I hit 17 my knee was killing me. Same pain, on the outside. Very sharp. I thought about leaving the race; I didn’t see how I could go on like this. But I was closer to the finish than I was to the start, and I told myself that if I could just make it to mile 20, I would finish this race.
I really wanted to finish this race.
Miles 17 and 18 took forever. FOR-EV-ER. Many years. It was the worst.
I wanted to get to 18 because that’s where I DNF’d in NYCM. I remember reaching that spot in Richmond two years ago and being amazed that I felt so great at the same place in the race I had dropped out just the week before.
I recognized the street I was running on as the one where I would reach that 18, but I was only at 17 and I was barely moving. This was rough. I saw some people with interactive signs (like the one from Anne’s husband) but I had no energy to interact. I just had to get through these miles.
I told myself when my miles started slowing down that I would fight to not have any miles in the 10s.
17 – 10’07″/mi
18 - 9’38″/mi
I really had no control. I could fight and push myself to speed up, but it just wasn’t happening. My knee hurt way too much.
The spectators were phenomenal. I am so impressed they stood outside in the rain for so many hours — I wouldn’t have done it. And I heard something I NEVER hear during a race — quite a few spectators called out to me, at different points in the race, that they love my name!
Talk about getting a boost from strangers! What a nice unexpected thing to hear during a race. I loved it!
When we finally turned onto Boulevard, I was happy to hit another milestone – the road where the expo was held, and where I would see Andy and Larry at the mile 20 Party Zone.
Except I saw them before then, towards the beginning of mile 19. They didn’t go to the Party Zone — making it two that they missed out of the three — because the directions were confusing and they were just happy to have found the course so they could spot me.
I was so happy to see them. I needed that boost so badly.
One problem — and I’d been thinking about this for a few miles — I knew I didn’t need the extra ShotBloks Andy was carrying. I brought six with me in my back pocket, expecting to use them up and then take another six from Andy. But I was struggling to get them down and I still had two of my own left by this point. I knew I’d be able to eat one more, two tops, if I really forced myself. But no more.
So I told Andy to keep them. And when he ran out in front of me (bouncing puppy in his arms) to get a photo, I faked the best, ecstatic, running face of the race!
You’d think I was having the time of my life, right! ALL LIES. I do love this picture because this is my first marathon without official photos showing my excitement and joy. Sure, I managed to smile for some but the real energy just isn’t there.
Around mile 20 a woman in a green shirt ran up next to me.
“Yeah..” I said, wondering who this was.
“I read your blog. I saw you throw your arms up in your pose and knew it was you.”
“Oh! Hi! Nice to . . . meet you?” I didn’t know what the right words were. And then she sped off past me.
I tried to keep up with her but green shirt clearly ran a much stronger race than I did. I hope she did well (I bet she did)! Also, hi!
19 – 9’35″/mi
20 – 9’52″/mi
I was so happy to get through the 20th mile. I knew that no matter how much it hurt, I would finish this race.
But the bad pain was getting worse. In addition to the outside knee pain, the front/inside area started hurting too. My right hip (where I tore my labrum but has NEVER once bothered me running) hurt. My legs were losing steam.
I also felt some pain in my toenails but I forgot about it. It paled in comparison to my knee pain. Needless to say, it was quite a shock when I got back to my hotel later and peeled off my socks to find two bloody, black, extremely painful toenails. I hadn’t experienced this since switching to Injinji socks, but starting a race soaking wet will do that you. I am really glad this didn’t give me more trouble at the time because afterwards, I couldn’t even let my toes touch the comforter, much less wear socks!
I also wondered if the damp weather was affecting my knee. I sprained my ankle when I was 10 and it often acts up when it rains.
As we ran into the community of really nice houses — through a wall that said “THE WALL” on it (ha) — I remembered how tough this part of the race was for me two years ago. The spectators are pretty great here. They offer candy and beer and so much support at a much needed time in the race. But it was even tougher this year. When I saw my mile 21 split, I looked down at my watch and out loud said, “fuck.”
21 – 9’55″/mi
22 - 9’42″/mi
I had officially lost control of my race. I remembered the resolve that got me my half marathon PR and tried to channel that. “Speed up,” I told myself. “Stay as close to 9:30 as you can. Just pick it up. This is the time in the race you’re supposed to pick it up.”
It didn’t work. My legs would not cooperate.
I was incredibly frustrated. I was beyond upset. I saw other people around me with their own struggles, which made me feel better to know I wasn’t the only one falling apart. I’d see someone and resolve to stick with them as long as possible. Pink skirt girl. Yellow training club shirt guy.
Sometimes I’d think they got away only to see them come up beside me miles later.
I took water and Powerade at most of the water stations but I still felt thirsty. And just when I thought this couldn’t get any worse, my knee stopped working.
By that I mean my knee totally gave out. It had given out earlier in the race, in the teen miles, once or twice but that was nothing like this. That pain came from the outside pain. This pain was different, and much worse.
The first time it happened, I felt an electric shock at the front/inside of my knee. The shock stopped me dead in my tracks as the pain shot down the front of my shin. I cried out in pain, hoping no one would be angry or upset with me for not pulling over to the side. I couldn’t. I had no control.
I got moving again in a shuffle. When my watch beeped for mile 23 I was actually shocked to see I was still under 10:00. My “easy” training runs were slower than that. I was grateful once again for the base I built (though wondered if I would have prevented this by starting out slower — and I don’t think I would have. I think the pain would have happened and I would have suffered on the course for even longer and missed my goal by even more.
As I shuffled along the 24th mile, trying to make the miles ahead of me seem fewer (only a four mile training run, just like an easy morning run/three miles, you did that just a few days ago), it happened again.
Electric shock. Knee gave out. Knee stopped working. Dead stop in center of road. Cry out in pain. Pain shoots down front of leg. Feel self conscious about the spectators seeing me like this. Feel frustrated, upset, angry at the loss of control. Wonder how I could possibly run two more miles like this. Realize I can’t run at all. For the very first time in any of my marathons (aside from every water station), walk.
I don’t know if I was giving in or I had no choice, but at the time it seemed like I had no choice. I fought the urge to walk so many other times (though walking through the water stations became, like in the final miles of the PDX Marathon, a treat).
I didn’t walk for more than a few seconds though, and once I got back to my shuffle I didn’t feel that excruciating pain again. My knee was still killing me — especially the outside part — but the electric shocks seemed to stop. Suddenly, I was moving again.
24 – 10’15″/mi
I am shocked — SHOCKED — that mile 24 wasn’t slower than this. At the time I was certain it would be in the 11s. Even with stopped, walking, crying, shuffling, barely running, I was still moving faster than my long training runs.
I couldn’t believe it. But I was still devastated.
Want to hear something funny? I ran mile 24 faster in 2011 than I did this year -- even though my overall race time was (spoiler alert) 22 minutes faster. That goes to show just how painful this was for me.
While I didn’t walk in mile 25, and my knee didn’t give out, it was still slow and rough. I wanted so much to find the adrenaline, the inner strength, the mental toughness to pick it up in this last mile, to get back as much lost time as possible. I forced down my last ShotBlok, hoping it would give me a burst of energy. I said to myself, over and over, “Pick it up. Pick it up. Pick it up.”
But I couldn’t.
25 – 10’22″/mi
I saw the IHOP Express (recently opened before my 2011 Richmond Marathon, and I found it FASCINATING) and I saw the familiar streets that turn to the finish. I remembered this from last year’s half marathon (when I last ran the full it had a different finish line). I knew a nice downhill finish was up ahead.
I changed my watch display to show my elapsed time instead of my pace. The pace functionality wasn’t working correctly at all this entire race, though I don’t think it affected how I ran.
But now, I needed to know how far I was from my goal. When I saw the 4:00 come and go, I thought, OK, I might still be able to finish in 4:10.
When I hit 4:08 I started having my doubts. I couldn’t control how fast I was moving though, so I had no choice but to keep going as I was.
26 – 9’49″/mi
This last .2 didn’t feel so long this time. It was during this time that I was flying downhill, all pain momentarily forgotten. I didn’t know if my knee would let me run a strong finish or have me hobbling along. I didn’t know if I’d feel the electric shock again.
I did know that this long (I’d guess around .4 mile?) downhill felt AMAZING. I felt like, after miles and miles of pain and slowness, I was flying!
I looked at my watch and saw 4:10 passing me by. I realized I wouldn’t make it, even though I had been so, so close.
I picked it up; it wasn’t hard. I heard someone yell “DORI!” on my right and there was Danielle. A moment later I heard it on my left and there was my husband. I realized I should have probably been running on the left side since that’s where we cheered last year but I wasn’t thinking in logical ways like that. I was just trying to make it through.
Many runners don’t like this intense downhill finish. It can hurt after so many miles, it can be hell on the quads, it can take energy not to topple over.
But I didn’t feel any of that. I glided my way right through the finish line.
.32 – 7’44″/mi
I crossed the finish line in 4:11:06.
And then I burst into tears. Not happy ones.
He took my hands and said, “Dori.” (My name was on my bib). He gave me some words of encouragement and congratulations about the race — none of which I can remember — and I immediately felt a lot better. What a GREAT guy. He doesn’t know me but he said the exact right thing to me at the exact right time. And I was kinda starstruck.
I wanted to be happier for myself. I wanted to feel less disappointed. Seeing Bart definitely helped perk me up in a time I needed it, though I hate to say the sad feelings came back.
I am aware I sound like an insufferable brat. I am aware that I PR’d by 12 minutes (22 minutes off my last Richmond time) and I ran a time that just last year seemed completely out of reach.
But the marathon is a force. Anything can happen on race day, which I’d already learned the hard way when I tried running my first marathon in 2011. I knew going into this race that my knee might or might not be OK. I also knew going into this race that I am a far stronger runner than I ever thought I could be. After all, a 4:05 – 4:10 goal? I would have laughed in your face two years ago and even last year if you told me that would be my goal. When I registered for this race, I was hoping for a 4:15!
I never would have believed you if you told me I would run a marathon at a 9:35 pace — AND be unhappy with my time. THAT IS ABSURD.
Also absurd? That I ran two marathons in six weeks! See all these things I never thought I’d be able to do? In the big picture, missing my goal is so minor.
But I knew I chose a goal I could reach. If I got one thing out of this training cycle, it is confidence in myself as a runner. It is a desire to constantly improve and be better. I learned a lot about myself — both as a runner and as a person — through this entire training cycle.
For 19 weeks I trained “for real” — for the first time. By “for real,” I mean I followed a plan for more than just miles. I did the speedwork: the tempos, the intervals. I did the “easy” runs and I added “strides” when my plan called for them. If my long run called for marathon pace miles at the end or in the middle, I did it.
I trained like a real runner.
I did this because I had goals that I knew I could reach. And 4:11:06 — an AMAZING time — was just seven seconds off at least being in that 4:10 realm. I keep wondering, could I have made up those seven seconds somewhere? That is dumb. It is arbitrary. What does it matter? I did the best I could given the troubles I had.
I was on track to demolish my goal and I know I could have if it wasn’t for my knee. I probably should have taken more days off after Portland or gone right to physical therapy or both. I know that now.
All I can do is take what I learned and use it to be better next time. That means that right now I am resting. It’s been over a week since the race and I haven’t exercised at all. I’ve been icing. I went to the doctor. I had an MRI. I start physical therapy today.
The 2013 Richmond Marathon left me wanting to improve. It left me wanting to become a better runner. It left me wanting to take my next training cycle even more seriously. It also left me wanting to take any signs of injury more seriously. I don’t want to be scared of taking a full week off if something hurts. I don’t want to worry about “losing my training.” I want to race smart and injury free. I want to crush my goals.
I’m doing everything in my power to fix my knee and not come back to working out too soon — even though I miss Refine like mad and it is absolutely killing me not to be there — because I am running another marathon in July.
And I bet you can figure out my goal for that one.