Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Run Around over my Run Around Richmond

My recap of the Richmond Marathon concluded with a mystery. Will he be placed in the official results, or will his time only exist in his head forever? The answer is the former. However, it didn't come easy.

The pre-race dinner should have been a precursor. When the attendant at the front desk of the Day's Inn told us the hotel restaurant was having a pasta dinner, we thought, "What could be easier?" So, instead of venturing out into the town, we simply made our way downstairs. I expected there to be a buffett with spaghetti, meatballs, sauce, bread, salad, etc. But, when we walked in there was no buffett. We sat right down since the place was half-empty and when our waitress came over, we immediately ordered. We both wanted the spaghetti special. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Now, I am no chef, but I have cooked spaghetti. The longest its ever taken me to make spaghetti is eight minutes. That's including the amount of time it takes to get the water to boil. When 20 minutes passed, both Aaron and I started to get a little annoyed. We ordered bread to fight off the hunger. It came...15 minutes later. 40 minutes and still no spaghetti. The waitress kept coming by and saying things like, "it's almost here," and "I've never seen it this busy." There were maybe 15 people in the restaurant. Not to mention it was no secret there was a marathon in town the next day that started four blocks from the hotel. Perhaps some planning might have been beneficial. At the 50 minute mark, the pasta arrived. Instead of being plentiful, it was puny. I think both of us finished the entire plate with the side of mystery meat balls in 1/10th of the time it took us to get our food. Still, hungry and overcharged considering the service and the portion size, we left in search of more food. We found ourselves at a minimart down the street. To say it was shady would be a compliment. Bars were on the doors and windows, and the odor of gasoline inside was so strong I thought the whole place might blow up were my cell phone to ring. (Note: it was not a gas station.) Fortunately, we had already bought peanut butter at a real grocery store. But, we needed jelly and bread to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We found some high fructose corn syrup concoction and some suspect looking bread and walked back to the hotel. Paul could only laugh when he came back from his nice dinner with his family to see us stuffing our faces with PB & J.

That's my anecdote.

My calls and emails to the Richmond Marathon organizers began roughly 17 seconds after I learned I had been dropped from the results. Since it was a Saturday night, I got no answer. Sunday was much of the same. On Monday, I finally got through to a person. They said they understood my concern and the problem would be fixed in one to two days. Later that day, I recieved the same response in an email. One to two days. Tuesday, I got an email from the timing company. They weren't so optimistic. I was told they would begin looking into the matter, but would need photographic evidence and testimonials from other runners. Sigh. They really suspected I cheated. I again told them that if I were going to cheat, I would cheat to a place higher than 11th. Heck, there was cash five deep. I thought they suspected me not only of cheating, but also of being stupid. Coach Hadley wrote them a strongly worded email, Paul affirmed that we ran the first seven miles together. I sent pictures and the electronically generated email Caitlin got when I finished. By Thursday, I was starting to wonder if this race was never going to officially exist for me, and I had poured months of work into something I had nothing to show for. It was a daunting feeling. Friday, I was on my last nerve. I called both the race director's office and the timing company. I left messages at both places. The timing company had an assistant call me back to say it might be several more days. In the midst of my anger, I saw that the Richmond Marathon Facebook page had reposted Theoden's blog about all the Charlotte runners and labeled it, "Charlotte Runners love the Richmond Marathon." Maybe I shouldn't have commented, but I had to. I wrote that not all Charlotte runners loved the Richmond Marathon, this one in particular. I put it right there on their public page that I was disappointed with the way this was all handled. They wrote back within minutes, clearly irritated with my squeaky-wheel attitude. That must have been the right move because it was that afternoon I got confirmation that my time of 2:40:28 was official and would be placed in the results. It's still not online, but it is supposed to be there Monday or Tuesday.

Now, I can head back up to Richmond on April 2nd for the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reflecting on Richmond

It's been so long since I have updated. After work and training, I couldn't justify "writing in my blog" as an acceptable way to use what was left of my time. But now that the most recent major mountain has been cleared and I'm in a valley (at least running-wise), I think I can spare a few minutes.

I started training for Richmond in June with a new coach, a new training philosophy and a new concentration on mileage. So, it was sort of surreal to be standing at the starting line Saturday morning. I lined up next to Paul and Aaron, all of us decked out in CRC gear. Before the gun went off, I decided that although it was only 38 degrees, I'd ditch the arm sleeves and the hat and just go with gloves to keep me warm. This proved to be a good move. My goal for the race was sub 2:40. I knew I was in shape to do it, but I have always had trouble hanging on. My hope was that my increased mileage would make me stronger at the point of the race where I usually start to falter. About a week earlier, Paul had convinced me to aim for 2:35 with him. I thought it was possible, but everything would have to go perfectly for that to happen.

When we were given the command to start, Paul and I immediately headed out together, settling into a pace that ranged from 5:53-6:00. The first couple of miles were flat, so this seemed effortless. Not to mention, it was of course, the first couple of miles. At mile two and a half, we made the turn onto beautiful Monument Avenue where Lauren, Kristy (her mom) and Pepper were cheering loudly for us. It was great to see them! Matt rode by on his bike shortly after, and I commented to Paul that the police would probably kick him off the course since no bikes were allowed. Not far down, was Lisa, Emily and Sophie Mainwaring with signs for Paul and cheering loudly. We hit the 10K at 37:02. This will be an important point later on.

As we neared mile five, my stomach started to get that familiar "rock feeling" that I had been experiencing the past couple of days. In fact, it had kept me out of work on Friday. I can't quite describe it, but it sort of feels like a bad side stitch. It wasn't debilitating, but it did have a mental impact on me and there were a couple of times I found myself clutching my side. As we rolled over a very pretty bridge into the first "Party Zone" near mile seven, I let Paul open up on me and decided to be a little more conservative since the race was still young. I'll never know what would have happened if I hadn't made that choice.

Miles 7 through the half-marathon mark were fairly uneventful. 7-10 are probably the most picturesque sections of the course. It's a country road the runs along the James River. To the left is the water and to the right are beautiful homes. At this point, I was on my own. Once out of the neighborhood, for the first time in the race, runners hit some pretty serious hills. I wondered how much my pace would suffer here, but was surprised to see I didn't slow down much, keeping every mile near 6:00 pace.

At the half-marathon mark (1:18:39), a guy in a yellow Brooks singlet rolled up next to me. We got to talking and realized our goals were similar. We decided to work together. During the course of our chatting, I learned he was a former Navy guy who currently lived in Syracuse, NY. Since I lived in Syracuse for quite some time, it gave us something to chat about. I was glad to have him as we crossed back into downtown Richmond over the mile-and-a-half long Lee Bridge. Many Richmond veterans call that the worst part of the course, and it just might be. It's a steady incline where you can see an endless portion of the course that reminds you just how much longer you have left. Standing at the end of the bridge was running-legend and inventor of the painful Yasso 800s track workout, Bart Yasso. Despite the fact that we don't know each other, it was still nice for me to see a familiar face.

I dropped my Syracuse friend as I grabbed what turned out to be a bone dry wash cloth at mile 17. I anticipated it being cold and wet, but when I wiped it against my sun-cracked face and lips, it was the opposite. I was also getting sick of my CRC sweat band. It had done its job and was now weighing an enormous amount. I thought I was going to see Lauren and Kristy at 18.5 and thought it might be funny to toss my sweaty apparel at them like a rock star. When mile 18.5 came and went, I tossed the sweat band at mile 19, and I doubt anyone saw it.

Following the last and most punishing climb of the race, Matt was standing at mile 20 and reported to the others that I was beginning to look like I was working. He said something like, "this is where the real race begins." Truth be told, for the first time in my four marathons, I felt like I was working the entire race. Despite being consistent, I at no point felt "dialed in". Granted, the other times I felt dialed in, I was pacing poorly, but at least there was a period of comfort. The first ten miles or so had felt like a Saturday morning tempo run that wasn't going smoothly.

I had truly hoped to be ready to roll the last 10k. The course is very forgiving in the final stretch, if you have anything left to be forgiven. I, however, knew that I was going to be fighting to the finish. My pace had begun to slide off starting at 17, recovered at 20 and started sliding again at 21. Just after the 21 mile mark is the last gel stop. I was counting on it heavily because I had already taken the two Carb Booms I was carrying with me. I ran up to the guy handing out Vanilla Acel Gel and the gel packet slipped right out of my hand. In hindsight, I should have just gone back and grabbed it. I could have used the extra energy and calories to make up the time. Instead, I kept going and a long list of possible scenarios played out in my head. Did I just buy myself a first class ticket to the wall? I was so worried about not getting the necessary calories to complete the final five miles, that I considered taking advantage of a junk food stop at mile 22. They had Coca Cola, pretzels, cookies, etc. But, I decided against it since that would have been a totally foreign experience on an already weakened stomach.

With the miles dwindling down, I find myself in a familiar spot. There's some bargaining with God that happens. I question if I could gather up some strength if I walk for just 25 seconds. I tell myself "at the next mile, there's only three more." The marathon is a big head game. You have to convince yourself that all the easy ways out, all the hypothetical concessions you make when you're in a world of hurt will turn into giant regrets as soon as you give in and concede. You can't go back. So, you keep running.

At mile 25, you always gather a little more strength. The finish is within an arm's reach. I was happy to see a loud cheering crowd again coming onto Cary Street in downtown Richmond. Leonard, Kevin, Laura and Allen who had all run great in the half-marathon were a huge support and Lauren and Kristy were cheering loudly at the finish. The final 800 meters is a steep downhill, and I wasn't sure if it would hurt worse if I continued running, or if I tucked myself into a ball and rolled down the asphalt over the line. I went with the former. I crossed the line at 2:40:28. It's a new PR, 11th overall and second in the 25-29 age group.

I'd say I'm happy and satisfied. The competitor in me wonders how much better I could have done. My mileage was the highest it's ever been. My workouts were great. I was super conscious of my hydration and nutrition. Shouldn't I have broken 2:40? Maybe, but the fact is, I didn't. I don't think I'll ever not be excited by a new PR. But, I also don't think it's possible for me to run a race and not question if I could be faster. I know one thing; I was completely and utterly exhausted both mentally and physically. It was great to see Paul who had an incredible race, finishing in 2:35:11 and Aaron not far behind me in 2:41:32. PRs for everyone. We had all trained together day in and day out. We were up at 5:00am, we were in bed at 9:00pm. We sacrificed, our wives (and in my case girlfriend) sacrificed.

At press time, I am going back and forth with the organizers of the Richmond Marathon. While I was in the preliminary results, I was deleted from the final results. I imagine it's because my chip malfunctioned and didn't register me at 10K or 20K. My only guess is that they think I cheated, but I told them on the phone that if I were going to cheat, I'd cheat myself into cash. Just this afternoon, I was assured all would be fixed in the next one to two days. I won't rest until I see it in writing. The only bummer is that I always buy the paper the day after the race, and my name was left out of the Richmond paper. Maybe I'll write it in later.

I am pretty sure I am going to shelve the 26.2 distance for a little while. Maybe a year. It's not that I don't love it anymore, it's that I am young and want to focus on other distances while I still can. I think I have some soft PRs at 5K, 10K and half marathon and would like to take some time to improve those marks. I'd also like to have more time to spend with loved ones. The marathon can be a selfish endeavour, and that takes its toll on the people you care about most. That's the great thing about the Charlotte Running Club and the Charlotte Running Community as a whole. Everyone supports each others' goals, helps each other reach their potential and is there to pat you on the back when you cross the line. I couldn't be luckier.