Marathon number five, the Richmond Marathon is complete! I feel like I always say this after races, but I really, really liked this race!
We made the drive down to Richmond on Friday morning in just a hair under five hours so we made pretty good time! We went straight to the race expo and, in a pretty ridiculous coincidence, Dori, who had left just a little before us but had a further drive than us, got there at the same time we did! They were six cars ahead of us to turn into the parking lot. After Danielle, Dori, and I took a couple laps around the expo and headbands were purchased, we headed off to the hotel to get all our race day stuff ready and then met back up with Dori for a big pasta dinner.
Since Danielle was running the half marathon which started a half hour earlier than the marathon, we left the hotel nice and early to make our way down to the start. The forecast had been beautiful all week with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and sunny skies. However, on Friday, some overnight rain made it into the forecast, but this was supposed to be done by 6 am. The weather people lied. When we left the hotel at 6:45, it was still raining and by the time we got over to the starting line it became fairly heavy. We tried to stay as dry as possible, but my shoes and socks were already soaked through and soggy. Definitely not how I wanted to run my marathon. And, unfortunately, the rain kept up on and off throughout the entire race.
After Danielle and I said bye I tried to hang out under the entryway to an office building to prevent getting any wetter, but the damage was done, I was pretty soaked.
The good thing about Richmond compared to the other marathons I’ve run is that it’s not huge. When I got in the corral, I had no trouble finding the 3:45 pace group whom I wanted to park myself with for the next 26.2 miles of my life. The race started pretty quickly and with surprisingly little fanfare. I actually didn’t even hear or realize the race had started until everyone started running!
The one thing I’ve learned in my four previous marathons is a race can only be as successful as your ability to stick to your race day plan. I knew I put in the training for my goal so I wanted to do my best to stick with the pace group and give myself a solid chance of hitting my goal. Because the first half of the course is faster than the second, the pacers’ strategy was to plan a positive split and bank some time in the first 13.1 so we could take it slightly slower in the second half to deal with the hills. Throughout the entire race, I was beyond impressed at the pacers’ ability to keep our splits exactly on point. It was almost like the lead pacer was a machine built for the sole purpose of pacing runners. Each mile was exactly what was planned and our half time was right on target.
Throughout the first half of the race, I was filled with doubts about my ability to make it under 3:45. I wasn’t particularly feeling like I was having an “on” day. While I knew my long run times were on target for my goal, I had done them all starting out very easy with 9:15 or slower miles in the beginning and then picked it up mile by mile until I got down to around 8:00. The pacers’ race strategy started us off around 8:30 which definitely took its toll on me. All I could think about through the first half of the race was the uphill section from mile 14.5 until 18, I just wanted to get there and get that over with. I was dreading it.
We made it through the halfway point with 55 seconds banked. I wasn’t feeling as good as I wanted at all and I was already fairly sure I was going to have to drop off the pace at some point. I had followed my race plan thus far and consumed my gels every five miles and taken water at every stop and Powerade at the last couple of stops. I was doing everything right, just wasn’t feeling it.
By the time we working our way through mile 16 I realized I was already halfway through the hill I was dreading and not even noticing it all. On the course map and elevation chart, this incline looked brutal, but in reality, it wasn’t bad at all! The worst hill was actually back at mile ten.
As we were approaching mile 19 I started to have my doubts again, I was fatiguing. I still had a bit left in me, but I didn’t know for how long. I was actually running 15-20 feet in front of the pacer and trying to pull myself back, but my legs seemed locked at the pace I was running.
By miles 21 and 22, I was starting to feel how I did at this point in Chicago last year and knew what this meant. The legs didn’t have much left in them and I again tried to back off just a little to avoid a complete bonk, but, just like before, my legs only had one pace in mind. At mile 23, I walked through the water stop and grabbed two waters and a Powerade. I watched as the pace group kept going through at their pace leaving me behind. I started running again and kept them in my sights, but I gave up on my goal. I knew I wouldn’t come in under 3:45 anymore and started thinking about accepting 3:46 or 3:47.
As the last 3.2 miles progressed, I kept looking up to see the pace group at the same place, around 15-20 seconds ahead of me. Not too bad, I thought. I knew I’d still come in close to my goal, but I couldn’t believe I was still keeping my pace on point. I felt like I was barely moving. As I made my way to the last mile, there was nothing I wanted more than to be done. I was fighting back the puke at this point, but my legs were still somehow going.
The race finishes down a completely ridiculous downhill section for the last quarter mile or so. I’m fairly certain I’ve snowboarded down double black diamond trails that were less steep than this! My momentum carried me down here as I picked up more and more speed. I feared my tired legs would just give out from the impact or I’d slip on the wet ground, but I just did what I could to keep it going. As I came down here I caught up to the pacers and they encouraged me to keep going and pull ahead of them.
As I crossed the finish line, I nearly feel over and kind of wanted to just puke all over the place, but I kept myself on my feet, kept my stomach contents inside of me, and put on a huge smile! I texted my wife asking for my official time, but I knew I squeaked in just under 3:45! I couldn’t have been happier! I nailed it!
Thoughts per mile
- Start: Wait! We’re starting?! I didn’t hear anything!! AHH!!!
- Mile 1: I’m already not feeling this, not good.
- Mile 2: More rain? Great.
- Mile 3: Still not feeling it. This pacer is chatty.
- Mile 4: 22.2 more miles? Whyyyyyy?
- Mile 5: I wish my shoes and socks were dry.
- Mile 6: This downhill is awesome! More of this!
- 10k: Remember those two twenty milers? Yeah, just have to do one of those now. Ugh.
- Mile 7: Was that an elite runner sitting on the curb back there, just hanging out? I kind of have to pee…I’m wet enough to pee my pants, right?
- Mile 8: That little hill was annoying. Why did that person not let go of the water cup when I grabbed it? Why did this girl behind me run into my back TWICE through the water stop?!
- Mile 9: Why does it have to be so humid?
- Mile 10: OMG WHAT IS THIS HILL?! KILL ME!
- Mile 11: Yeah, this ain’t gonna happen for me today. Can we just skip ahead to 18 and be done with that big hill up ahead?
- Mile 12: Really? Still not halfway?
- Mile 13: Yup, definitely isn’t gonna happen for me today.
- Mile 13.1: Halfway! Woo! Changes nothing.
- Mile 14: Why aren’t these people yelling out what flavor gels they’re handing out? Why is this kid just holding out a big handful of them?! How am I supposed to grab one of these?
- Mile 15: This hill isn’t so bad!
- Mile 16: I’m totally rocking this hill!
- Mile 17: Why am I running ahead of the pace group? What am I thinking!?
- Mile 18: Hill is done! That wasn’t so bad!
- Mile 19: WHY IS THAT GUY RUNNING IN FLIP FLOPS AND HOW DID HE PASS ME?!
- Mile 20: Oh, only 10k to go? Might as well be a light year. I’m dying.
- Mile 21: I’m gonna bonk, here it comes!
- Mile 22: Why am I still running in front of the pacer? HOW am I still running in front of the pacer? I want a burger.
- Mile 23: WATER! WATER! WATER! Bye pace group, it’s been real. Have fun without me!
- Mile 24: Am I done yet? Who said this was a good idea? How is the pace group still just 20 seconds ahead of me? There’s no way I’m not running 10-minute miles right now. I might as well be walking! What? I’m passing people? WTF! Also, I’m going to die. We’re okay with dying, right?
- Mile 25: 1.2 miles. I guess I can do this. It’s a downhill finish right? Where’s my wife cheering at? I need her face!
- Mile 26: GONNA PUKE! GONNA PUKE! GONNA PUKE! HOLY SHIT THIS FUCKING DOWNHILL! I’M GOING TO TOPPLE OVER! OH HEY, WIFE CHEERING ON THE SIDE OF THE COUSE! GONNA FALL OVER! WHERE THE HELL IS THIS FINISH LINE?! UH, HOW DID I JUST CATCH UP TO THE PACERS?
- Mile 26.2: Holy fuck! There it is! I just passed the pacers! WTF! I’mma hit this goal! BOOM!
- Post-race food: PIZZA!
- Getting a massage: This hurts soooo good!
- Post-massage: CHEESE FRIES! CHEESE FRIES! CHEESE FRIES!
- Walk back to the hotel: Go on without me!
- Walking into the hotel: Hey, I don’t feel so bad now.
- Walking to dinner: Yo, my legs feel great!
- Dinner: I’m ordering two dinners, nobody judge me, okay?
I kind of can’t believe I pulled off my goal after giving up on it at mile 23. I thought I was going to bonk for a while in this race, but I never did. I stayed on pace right up until the end even though I felt like I was barely moving. I credit the extra miles I put in during training and having two good 20-milers and a great 19-miler. I ran the same effort level as I did last year in Chicago, but was able to keep going. The difference was the miles.
I liked this race a lot, but I have two complaints. First, the race started off with no real fanfare or anything. The start didn’t pump runners up. Second, the water stops were small and only on one side of the road. At times, it was tough to get in there and get what you needed without causing problems for other runners or having other runners trample you.
Lastly, this was my first marathon since transitioning, so that’s pretty monumental. I now have a solid baseline for exactly how much my race times have been affected by hormone replacement therapy. Last year, I ran a 3:08:53 marathon, a 7:12 minute/mile pace. After seven and a half months on hormones, I ran at the same effort level, but without bonking at mile 22, and was _happy_ to run 3:44:55, an 8:35 pace. That’s a huge difference, but I’m finally becoming okay with this. I still need to do some work to see how I place as a woman compared to how I used to as a man. My goal is to get to a point where I’m at the same level as a woman as I was when I was running as a man.
How’d your “A” race go this fall?