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.