Monday, November 18, 2013

2013 Richmond Marathon Race Report

Once again, let me give the lead right out front:  4:01.  It's the second-fastest marathon I've run in my life.  It happened within 20 days of running my fastest marathon (3:59, at MCM).  There's a lot of good that happened down there in Richmond.  There was also some bad that happened.

But I wanted to give myself a couple of days to sleep on the race, catch up on some MUCH-lost sleep, and try to figure things out.  I think I've got enough perspective to write this now.  This will be a shorter entry than recent ones, so stick with me.

Pre-Race

I really have a LOT of good things to say about running Richmond, particularly if you're from the DC area:

1.  It's a VERY cheap Amtrak ride down ($25 with 14 days advance purchase, $33 if you buy with less time).  I took the cheap ride down, stretched my legs, and listened to two nutters sitting behind me complain about the George Washington Masonic Temple at the Alexandria stop discuss how Charlie Sheen was framed to look crazy because he understands "what secret meetings go on in that place."  They looked like characters from "Sons of Anarchy," so I didn't pull out my Skeptic Card.

2.  There is a pretty modest hotel located nearby, called "Massad House" that is very no-frills, but doesn't require a 2-night stay.  They put out water and pastries in runner's rooms the night before, and even allow you to check out late enough to get a shower post-race (that's huge, because you don't have to stay a second night).  This is a VERY no-frills hotel, not for those with Tiffany Tastes.  But the room is clean, and the people so very friendly.  Plus, you know, post-race showers.  I stayed there in 2009 in a "suite" and in retrospect I should have again gotten the bigger room.  I didn't, and didn't sleep well.  Stress.  Life drama.  Damn.

3.  There's a little English pub nearby, called "Penny Lane Pub," where you can get a beer, listen to actual vinyl records, and eat a big plate of fries the night before the race, before you put yourself to bed early. I did all that.  

But I just didn't go to bed happy.  I knew going to bed that I was a little sluggish.  I just have no idea how to "reverse taper," although my long runs were coming in right at 9 minutes over 10 miles, I just couldn't figure out what to do about Richmond's course. 

The Course

Richmond really is up there for being "America's Friendliest Marathon."  But the elevation profile is, well, a little challenging:



If it's not obvious, it's (1) a steady climb to about 6 miles, a quick drop to 7, another (short) climb, a drop, (2) ANOTHER steady climb from about 9 to almost the half.  You get another quick drop to 14.9, after which you (3) climb again, this time to about 18.  There are some gentle hills post-18, but the only one that will really hurt is the one around mile 23.  You of course get a quick drop to the finish.

So you've got 3 steady climbs even before the 18 mile mark.  I wasn't really sure how to strategize this.  Obviously, I couldn't run the early miles fast, that method is just ASKING to bonk, or hit The Wall at the end.  But, miles 13-20 aren't exactly amenable to banking time.  I wasn't sure what to do, so I handled the problem by just not thinking about it.

Besides, I'd just run a marathon 20 days earlier, hitting a PR, so I was supposed to just have fun.  But, I'm competitive. And I'd trained to get over injury for a solid year.  I wanted to see where all that work had left me.

Race Day

I walked all of like 4(?) blocks to the start line from my hotel, which wasn't hard.  Getting up was.  I was exhausted.  I knew from the start I wasn't feeling super.  I had someone recognize me from Twitter (or perhaps this blog), but he said he wasn't on Twitter.  So, um, hi?


Flat Tai, plus the 22 Too Many soldier I was running for.

Anyway, it was EASY to get to the corral.  Mid-sized races are just such a breath of fresh air compared to these epic, major city races.  I love the Marine Corps Marathon, and would happily run NYC (or Boston, but I'll never BQ), but the crowds are nuts.  I just strolled into my corral, and studied my pace band.

"Wait, Tai?  A PACE BAND?  Didn't you say this was a run just for fun??" 

Well, yes.  Yes, I did.

But, I'm also competitive.  And, I felt like I had run for almost a year to get myself back to the way I was, and I wanted to get a little gravy on top of my prior PR.  So, I wore another 4-hour pace band again.  If anything, I wanted to see if I could keep it close.

Bang!  Off we went.  It seemed like a crossed the start line quite quickly, but I didn't take note of how quickly (FORESHADOWING ALERT -- this was a bad idea), so I had no idea what my "gun time" was, vs. my chip time.


Miles 1-6

These were rough, but do-able.  They were a steady uphill, like I knew, but I held on to a little over 9 minute pace the entire time.  I took nutrition after mile 4, but pretty much snapped back to pace.  I hit the 10K mark in 57 minutes and change, so about a 9:11 pace.  No big deal, I told myself.  I was due a downhill.

Miles 7-13

I just FLEW through miles 7 and 8, taking advantage of the terrain, getting my pace back down to about 8:40 per mile.  The emotions were coming in ups and downs, as I suspect with many marathons.  I took nutrition at mile 8, and was ahead of a 4-hour pace by mile 12, with all of 40 seconds of cushion.  But, I was climbing again.  Climbing.

The Half

I stopped and walked through my last major nutrition stop here, which involved eating Gu Chomps.  There happened to be a large hill prior to the half, and I just figured, "screw it, take your time, eat, and then run another half marathon."  I hit the half just under 2:01.  So over a 4-hour pace, but not by much.  If this were the MCM, this is where I would open up and fly through the course.

So I did!

Miles 14-17

These miles can be a little bleak.  Many a race in Richmond has been lost at the mile 15 bridge.  There is wind.  There is desolation.  There isn't a lot to inspire you.  But, I came in each mile at 9 minutes, and was chipping away at the Half deficit in 10-second increments.

Unfortunately, you climb from 15-18 at a not-pleasant rate.  I slipped a little.  Mile 16 was 9:15, and mile 17 was 9:08.  The magic pace is 9:09, remember.  So I was at a stalemate.

Then came mile 18.

Mile 18

This is only something that I can do.  I hit mile 18, and, as was my habit, I hit the "lap" button on my Garmin, so I could keep track of my pace.

BEEP!  (or "boop")

I kept running.

At some point, I looked down at my watch.

The time wasn't moving.

I had hit "stop" instead of lap.

Oops.

So, there was that.

I trotted along at mile 18, absolutely dumbfounded about what to do.

I had about 9 minutes to come up with a solution.

What I decided to do was hit "reset," and "end" the run.  Then, at mile 19, I would hit "start," and track a 7.2 mile run.  But how much time did I have left?

Foreshadowing:  "HEY IDIOT!  Did you note how long it took you to cross the start line?  No?  HAHAHAHAHA, SCREWED!"

I guessed that it took me about 2 minutes to cross the start line, and operated the rest of the race on that assumption.

That's also foreshadowing.

Mile 19-20

The 7.2 mile race begins!  Just in time for me to start to slip a bit. Not much.

I hit 20 miles at an even 3:04, (a 9:12 pace), so exactly 1 minute behind 4 hours.  I had 56 minutes to run a 10K, which I can do in my sleep when I'm rested (9 minutes per mile).  But doing it after having run 20 miles?  A wee bit tougher.  Plus, I didn't think I had 56 minutes.  I had deluded myself into thinking I had 58 minutes or so (9:20 per mile, which should have alerted me to making no sense, but I was exhausted, loopy, and frazzled).

I had work to do, but of course, this is the wall.  If those two minutes of clock time held true, I might find a way to gas it.  But, the uncertainty got RIGHT into my head, and just ate at me.  I couldn't shake it.  Besides, I was supposed to have fun, right?

Miles 20-26.2

My final 10K slipped, but I'm grateful to say it didn't slip much.  My overall pace dropped to 9:19 per mile.  In my head, if I had 2 minutes of clock time, I might make it.  

My pace reflected a respectable, and mostly inevitable drop.  But, I just couldn't figure out when to kick.  I kept waiting for another mile marker to recalculate what I needed to do.  And I held onto those two minutes like a security blanket.  But, time kept on slipping, and I kept on counting.

Finally, hoping for the best, I said to hell with it, and kicked at mile 25 to 26.  Because, you know, why not?  I ran my 2nd fastest mile of the marathon, doing it in 8:43, and then flew down the fabled .2 down the hill, motoring as best I could.  I actually was almost embarrassed to go as fast as I did.  Garmin said I was running a sub-7 minute pace (albeit for just .2).

The clock read 4:02:XX.  It turned out I had only taken about a minute to cross the start line.

4:01.

Well, crud.

I passed Bart Yasso at the finish line, as runners were getting their water, and high-fived him.  He took a second a stared at me, almost sizing me up.  Did he recognize me?  My online name was right there on my bib.

I was ashamed.  I said nothing.  I couldn't bear to re-introduce myself to him.  So I gave a jaunty hand-slap, and kept walking, head down.

I headed back to my room, showered, and dealt with the online fallout.  People were uniformly supportive.  I hadn't publicized a secret desire to break 4 again, but I was gutted.  I tried to focus on the positive.  I bought a train ticket online to head home, and waddled to the English pub, where I had many, many beers, plus fish n' chips.

Other runners were in there too, and we all kind of chatted about how surprisingly difficult the course was, even though the crowd support was great, and the city support itself was also very noticeable.  Richmond loves its runners.

I'm left, after a couple of nights sleep, with the Good, Bad, and Ugly of this race:

Good:

-- Um, hello?  My two fastest marathons happened 20 days apart
-- I wanted to get back to where I used to be.  I got there.
-- Hell, I not only got there, I'm now faster than I ever was, barring high school.
-- For the second straight marathon, I didn't bonk, walk (non nutrition point), or hit the wall.
-- My post-mile 20 race pace was only about 7 seconds slower
-- I went out on a tough course, where hills are front loaded, and nearly equated my PR.
-- I trained all summer to be a sub-4 runner. I got there once, and kept my fitness level.

Update:  Holy shit.  My 1st and 2nd half of the races were ONE SECOND apart.  I had a ONE SECOND positive split.  So, even though it's a positive split, I'm going to count that as a good thing.  Yeah, I think it's fair to say I've gotten beyond being hit by the Wall.

Bad:

-- 4:01.  It wasn't 4:02 at least.
-- Mile 18.  I was loopy, I won't lie. My head was just off its rocker. I was probably delirious.
-- I think, in retrospect, my long runs this past summer were too slow.
-- Hal Higdon often says you can't do LSDs too slowly, but now I wonder.
-- I have the endurance to keep going beyond 20 miles now, but not the speed.

Ugly:

-- TWICE, post race, someone said to me, "Are you ok? Do you need assistance?"

-- I was looking VERY rough. My calves were tightening up. They have NEVER done that at any other race EXCEPT Richmond.  Hills?  Who knows.

-- I forgot to do ANYTHING at the finish line.  It was suggested I do the "Live Long and Prosper" sign, hold up some 4s, even do Gangham Style, but I just ran across the finish line, already wondering if there were train tracks I could lay down across and end the miserable existence we call life.

But, giving it a couple of days to let it settle, and reading social media, I see that a LOT of running is about disappointment, particularly for runners who've been at this sport a while.  When you start out, you PR race after race as you get faster.  But, then, you start to level off, and you can either be content, or take it to the next level.  I saw reports from runners who are WAY faster than me express disappointment with Philly 26.2, or celebrate new PRs.  I saw runners who are slower than me celebrate finishing, and some express relief that they did it at all.  Same for Richmond.  The feelings I had were quite common.

I actually kept my fitness around 4 hours regardless of the course.  One was flat but crowded, one was far more open, but hilly.  I have to learn how to pace.  I have to learn that it's ok to fail.  I have to learn that "failure" is a pretty ridiculous thing to call the second-fastest marathon you've ever run in your life.

The bottom line is I spent the summer trying to rev up.  I think I did just that.  Now it's time to rest up, heal, and focus on bettering myself more in 2014. 

===============
By the numbers:

Top 44.1% of all men (ouch).
Top 39.6% of men in my age group.
Top 33.7% of all finishers.

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