Richmond Marathon 2018 Recap

I ran the Richmond Marathon two Saturdays ago, and sometime around mile 18 I thought about this blog and wondered if I would even bother writing a recap, which led to me thinking I might just delete it altogether (well, not delete, but make it private with no intention of looking at it again, like I have a couple of times in the last year). I'm still not sure that wouldn't have been the right decision, but I also realized I have a recap written for all 6 previous marathons I've run, so here I am if for no other reason than to keep the streak going!

But let's back up, because there is a lot that happened before I made it to that mile 18 marker.

If it wasn't obvious by the content and quantity of my posts leading up to this race, this is probably the least invested I have ever been training for and going in to a full marathon. I think that's mostly because I knew I would be running this without a time goal and that took a lot of the pressure off (maybe too much, ha!). Although very early in training I'd had my fingers crossed that this might be a PR training cycle, it quickly became clear that, between the summer temps and just not being in the same place fitness-wise as I was the last time I ran a PR, it wasn't going to be. Truth be told, I signed up for this race with more of a why not than a strong why, and that was fine with me. Not every race can be or needs to be a PR, and I was excited for the experience and a new challenge. I was coming off a year of big races and hard training and the prospect of running a low-pressure marathon was strangely appealing. I have run the Richmond half a few times (including my first sub-1:50 in 2014) and have heard so many good things about the full for so many years. My only big plan/race this year was the 50k, which the marathon worked well with since it's 5 weeks before the 50k, and I felt like the timing just made sense. Also, my brother-in-law Paul got into running and tri a couple years ago and had been throwing Richmond around as an option for his first full, so we kind of convinced each other to run it!

The Day Before
Richmond is only about a 90-minute drive from me but the race was on Saturday and I wanted to be able to take my time getting up, getting ready, and getting there the day before, so I took that Friday off from work. Ben ended up having a meeting he needed to be in Richmond for that afternoon, so we got to town around 1:30pm. I dropped him off and realized I had a couple hours to kill before meeting my brother-in-law at the expo for packet pickup, so I decided to drive the course after I realized that I actually had driven or knew the course for all my previous marathons except for IM Louisville. (The other marathons I've run are Charleston, Shamrock, and IMNC, and I did make it a point to drive the course for Charleston because it was my first, but for the others I knew the courses from running previous races on them. So Louisville is the only one I've ever gone in to with absolutely no experience on the course prior to the race.)

I hadn't done a ton of recon on the Richmond course since I thought I knew it pretty well from running the half several times, but in reality they only have about 8 or 9 miles of overlap. They run together for the first 2 or 3 miles, then the full splits off to go the opposite direction and doesn't pick the half course back up until mile 19 or 20, so even though I've run the half a few times there was actually a lot of uncharted territory for me! The James River runs through Richmond, with the downtown and main parts of the city on the eastern side, so I had never even been over to the western side before. I was mainly curious about that side because I had heard that was where the majority of the rolling hills are along the course, and I wanted to see how bad (or not) they were. Driving it seemed about what I had been expecting, although I did feel like, aside from some downhills, the whole course was on a slight incline!

Race Day
Race morning was pretty uneventful: I got up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and Ben dropped me off at the start with about 25 minutes to go until the start. The only hitch was that I was really unsure about what to wear. The temperature had been predicted to be in the high 30s/low 40s, but it was a little warmer than I was expecting in the mid-40s. And it was windy but also sunny, so I couldn't decide what would be warm without being too warm. I ended up going with pants, a short sleeve top, and arm warmers but kind of wished I had worn shorts. The only reason I didn't go with shorts was because I didn't want to chafe, but I ended up chafing anyway so so much for that!

I'm not sure how or why I glossed over this in my last post, but an important detail I left out is that I was sick for over a week leading up to the race. I started coming down with a chest cold about 10 days beforehand and luckily was at my worst the weekend before the race - although I did have to skip my last long run because of it, so my longest run in the 3 weeks before the race ended up being 8 miles. On the bright side, I felt like I was finally on the mend a couple days before the race, but I was still coughing and had a lot of chest congestion. Two days before the race I was feeling pretty good and confident and hopeful, but the day before I ran my last 2-mile shakeout that felt awful. I chalked it up to getting some last-minute crap out of my system (not uncommon for my shakeout runs even when I'm healthy) and tried not to let it get me down. 

Paul had also been sick for a few weeks leading up to the race and was on antibiotics for a sinus infection the week of, so neither one of us arrived at the start line as well-rested and healthy as we'd hoped. We both felt fine, though, so we didn't really adjust our time goals. Paul had been wanting to run close to or under 4 hours, and I was feeling more like 4:15, so off we went to chase those down! We ended up starting a little farther back near the 4:30 pace group because of some weirdness with the corrals, so after a half mile or so Paul left me to go catch the 4:00 pace group.

The first couple of miles run downtown down Broad Street, which is a nice flat section but really congested. I don't remember paying much attention to those miles this year, probably because they are pretty familiar to me at this point and because I knew we still had so long to go and I tried to zone out as much as possible. I do remember noticing that they were faster than I should have been running (9:13, 9:10), but it was nice to feel good for the first time in a while, and I thought maybe that's just what my body felt like running that day? Or at least in that moment?

We turned on to Monument Avenue just after mile 2, which I had run previously during the Monument Avenue 10k in April. I ran that race as a hard workout and it was a warm, tough day, so all I could think about during the marathon was how happy I was to not be as miserable as I was that day! I clocked more some fast miles (9:03, 9:01) but was feeling good, even if I knew that wasn't going to last forever. I could feel my chest starting to tighten already by mile 3, so I just wanted to run what felt good for as long as I could. Not a great, strategy, I know, but since I didn't have a time goal I was fine with inevitably slowing down later in the race (or so I thought...). 

We turned off of Monument Ave at mile 4 into a neighborhood, and I stopped at my first water stop there (I had skipped the first one at mile 2). I knew my sister-in-law and Paul's mom would be somewhere between there and mile 5 so I focused on finding them during that mile. There were lots of cross streets with lots of people out so I kept looking and looking and looking, and I finally saw them right at mile 4.5! I stopped for a quick hug and they told me Paul was only about a minute or so ahead of me. Shortly after I saw them we turned onto a more major street lined with gorgeous trees! So much of the course was filled with trees and fall foliage, which was one of the reasons I wanted to run this race. It was beautiful! It was still pretty crowded and there was just a sea of runners ahead for what looked like forever (9:14).

The next mile we went up a little bit of a hill before turning right before the mile 6 marker to cut over to the road that would eventually take us across the river (9:44). I was so relieved to see another water stop at the top of the hill at mile 6! After that we got on another road with massive, gorgeous homes. I had heard that this mile was downhill and hadn't really noticed it in the car, but I definitely noticed it running! It was a welcome break and I was still cruising (9:01 - fastest mile of the day). 

Next we got to the bridge that took us over the river. There was a beautiful view as we crossed and I kind of wish I had stopped to take a photo like I saw so many other people doing! It was really a lovely fall morning. After we came off the bridge we descended down a ramp to a road that ran along the river, and hit the mile 8 marker right at the bottom of the ramp (9:17). The next two miles were along a narrow, tree-lined road that honestly looked more like a paved trail than a legit road and paralleled the river. It could not have been more different than the downtown, urban streets we started on! It was really beautiful and peaceful and a part of the course people just rave about. It was really nice but daunting knowing how much we still had left to go! I tried to focus on running the mile I was in, but I could feel my legs getting heavier and I was already starting to slow down (9:29). 

Apparently I missed all race photographers except at mile 21 and 26, so photo via Richmond Marathon

We turned off the river road just before the mile 10 marker (9:06 - not sure what made this mile so speedy?). There was a short but kind of steep hill getting from the river road up to the neighborhood, but it continued with a gradual climb for maybe a quarter mile after that. If I had to pick one point where the race changed for me, that was it. That was where the rolling hills started and where I started to run out of steam (way too early, I know!). My chest was feeling really tight and thankfully there was an aid station just after mile 10, as I found that drinking water and taking walk breaks helped to relieve it.

At mile 11 we hit the main road we would be on for the next few miles until we crossed back over the river. I wasn't really a huge fan of this part and the miles kind of blurred together (9:57, 9:42, 10:01). This road wasn't particularly exciting except for a big party station we ran by with lots of people out cheering. The road was boring, and by that point the sun had come out and we were on a wide open road with no shade so it was really sunny and I was really warm, and I think the wheels kind of started to come off at that point (again, way too early, I know!). My chest was still tight and getting tighter so I gave in around mile 11 and started taking some non-aid station walk breaks. On one of them I downloaded the race app so I could see how Paul was doing, and I saw that he crossed the half checkpoint right at 2:00. I was happy that he was still on target and hoped he was feeling good! I crossed it a few minutes later at 2:03, surprising given that the two halfs I ran during training were 2:10 and 2:04. I shouldn't be particularly proud of this given how much slower my second half ended up being, of course, but I have to take the little victories where I can get them!

By the halfway point I was feeling pretty bored of running on the same road, and all I could think about was how much longer until the bridge to go back over to downtown, which I knew was around mile 16. The teen miles were wearing on me even more than usual since I had been running for so long on the part of the course I had never run before, and I was anxious to start making my way back to the part I did know. I also wasn't feeling great - my chest was really hurting and I was taking walk breaks fairly often (I honestly don't know how many but it felt like a lot) to get my breathing back under control. Certainly not ideal, and I wasn't thrilled by how much I still had left to go, but I just focused on moving forward. I saw a sign early on that said, "Forward is a pace" and I really embraced that especially in the second half! (10:17, 9:48).

Finally we made it to the bridge, although there was a pretty good climb leading up to the bridge before we turned right at mile 15 to get on the bridge itself. And when we did, I almost wished we hadn't - it was so windy and so cold up there! It was crazy that a few miles prior I had been complaining about being so hot and wishing I had worn shorts, to fishing my arm warmers back out of my fuel belt. Everyone complains about this bridge and before I ran this race, I couldn't figure out why! It's long but it's not steep at all - in fact, a lot of my training was on a bridge much longer with a steep climb, so this was basically nothing! Plus there's a really beautiful view of the city skyline as you cross, and so when I drove it the day before I couldn't figure out what the issue was. I'm still not sure, and I think it could have been better if it hadn't been so windy, but I didn't end up being the fan of this bridge that I thought I would be. I had really wanted to run the whole thing just to prove to myself that I could, but the tightness in my chest had long ago forced me into regular walk intervals and I ended up walking some of the bridge. 

The mile 16 marker was at the end of the bridge (10:18), and it was at that point that I got swallowed and then completely left by the 4:15 pace group. I had been feeling good knowing that they were somewhere behind me, but by the time I saw them pass I already knew I was going to be well over 4:15 (it was looking like 4:20ish at this point). We were once again downtown and this was when the wheels came completely off, and I never recovered from then until the end. I had finished one pouch of my Honey Stinger chews and started on a second pouch of a different flavor, and for whatever reason that flavor just did not agree with me. I felt regular bouts of nausea for a couple miles, and when I tried to eat some more around mile 17 (11:12) I had to spit them out because they turned me off so much. I'm actually not sure I ate anything from there until the end... 

It was around this time that I developed a pretty bad cramp in my diaphragm, likely from coughing, that lasted for the remainder of the race. Between that and the nausea I really didn't feel great but like I said, I had embraced that forward was a pace and I never stopped moving, no matter how slowly I was going or how slowly I was going. It was rough but I remember getting to the mile 18 marker (12:05) and just feeling so incredulous but grateful that I had made it that far! It had been a long morning but still short enough that I somehow felt like I had blinked and there I was, like I couldn't believe my body had just run (or run-walked, as the case may be) 18 miles.

I was able to get it somewhat together for mile 19 (10:41), but that was the last time I felt somewhat decent until the last mile. At that point we finally linked back up with the half marathon course (although the half was well over by that point), so the last 7 miles were all miles I had run before. I was feeling pretty beat up by this point and was having to take more and more walk breaks as the miles progressed. There was a timing mat at mile 20 (11:30) and I checked the app again to see where Paul was. He had crossed it just about 6 minutes before I did, which I knew meant he must have been struggling just like I was. 

This course really is gorgeous, especially the neighborhood during mile 21 (13:30 - slowest of the day, ), but that mile and the next few were the worst for me so looking at the scenery was the last thing on my mind. At that point I was just hoping to get through the final 5 miles in an hour. My diaphragm cramp had somewhat subsided, but I got one in my side that was absolutely stabbing. It got to the point where I literally couldn't run for more than 10 seconds at a time without acute pain stopping me in my tracks. It was so annoying, and I audibly yelled, "This is ridiculous!" while coming to a sudden stop multiple times. I had my watch on my lap pace and I did my best to stay under 12-minute miles, but didn't quite make it (12:05, 12:11, 13:10).

At this point we were heading back into downtown and during mile 25 made one of the last turns to head toward the finish. This mile was mostly flat, maybe slight downhill, and I finally realized that I could keep a decent pace if I just slowed to walk for a second or two when the cramp hit to breathe it out. I made it to mile 25 (11:47), and to a sign saying that there was one mile to go. Miraculously I was able to get it together and (slowly) run the whole last mile (10:36). 

Despite not feeling very well for the majority of the race, I never got upset or emotional. It didn't go great (understatement of the year), but despite how not great it went, I really was fine. This was by far the least emotional I have ever been during a marathon, but still, something at mile 25.5 made suddenly made me think about how surreal this was, how I was about to finish a marathon, 26.2 miles! I did tear up for a second then. I have run good marathons and I have run bad marathons but regardless of how the previous 25 miles went, getting to that last mile or less always feels amazing.

Richmond is famous for its downhill finish, as the last half mile winds downtown with a descent that leads to the final quarter mile straight down a steep hill. It's so steep I always have to remind myself to be careful and not to fall (thankfully this year I was not running quite so fast that that was as much of a problem but given my last splits, the 8:50 last 0.2 that I ran is pretty indicative of the extreme descent!).

You can see the start of the downhill with about a quarter mile to go - it just gets steeper from there to the finish!

Official Time
(10:26 pace) 

So, ouch. I completely missed my A (4:10) and B (4:18) goals and only hit one of my C (4:28 or 4:30 or 4:36 - couldn't nail that one down) goals, pretty much by the skin of my teeth. That was not what I had hoped for but wasn't far off from what I was expecting given the circumstances. I have never been good at pacing marathons, but I ran the biggest positive split I have ever run (2:03/2:33). Yikes. My slowest few miles were slower than any miles I have ever run ("run"?) in a marathon. Ever. (I checked). And I've run two of them 15-20 minutes slower than this one. I still kind of can't believe the second half went as poorly as it did. Mentally it wasn't the worst I have ever felt in a marathon, and it was the best I have ever felt when things went really wrong, which I guess is some kind of weird victory, but objectively it was pretty awful.

I know that even without being sick I wouldn't have been in PR shape, but I think I could have solidly run a 4:15 if I had spent the week and a half before the race healthy and the race itself being able to breathe, not coughing, etc. This was actually smack in the middle of my marathon performances (3:58, 4:18, 4:28, 4:36, 4:49, 4:57) - that's median, not mean - so not my best and not my worst. It's closer to my worst than to my best, which doesn't feel great, but oh well. I probably should have started more conservatively and might have had a better second half if I had done that, but I really did my best mile to mile, all things considered, and that's all I can really ask for.

I least there's that

I wish training for this race had gone much better than it did, and I wish the race itself had gone better. I don't care that much, but I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me at all. I think the think that bothered me most was constantly having to make excuses, at first for my injury and then for my sickness. I actually did enjoy training overall, but I think that's the one thing that made it not as enjoyable as it could have been, or at least different from all my previous marathons. I've never gone into any of those feeling undertrained and definitely never sick, and I wish I had been able to run this race at my full potential. I didn't get to, and that's fine, but I wish I had. That's the truth.

For all the hype this marathon gets, I'm not sure if I would run it again. There were some beautiful parts of the full course that I had never gotten to see on the half course, but I'm not sure if there were enough of them to make the full a must-do. The 8 miles or so on the other side of the river felt a little long to me. I definitely think I'll run Richmond again, but I think in the future I will stick to the half since in my opinion that's a long enough distance to highlight some of Richmond's best areas. The full was nice overall but there were some parts I didn't really care for, and it just wasn't nice enough overall for the full to be a repeat for me. Not saying I'll never do it again but I'm definitely not in a hurry.

I wish I had done better but I am proud of myself for never giving up. I think this training cycle and this race did a lot for me mentally to prove to myself that I can adapt when things don't go as planned. I didn't give up when I got injured, I just adjusted my training to back off when and how I needed to. I didn't give up during the race just because I was sick, and I adjusted my expectations when my body started breaking down. In the past this turn of events would have made me really frustrated and upset and would have elicited lots of mid-race tears, so the fact that none of that happened is at least something I can be happy about. Silver linings, or something?

And, I guess most importantly, I ran the entire race and finished pain-free, something that truly seemed like an impossibility just a couple months ago. As crappy as my race was, at least it wasn't painful (at least not in the bad, injury way) and for that I am truly, truly grateful.

At the end of the day, I'm chalking this up to a 26.2-mile training run. Next stop: Seashore Nature Trail 50k!


  1. You know I love your updates and I do hope you continue so I can see you recap the next IM!

    I personally thing even completing is fantastic but I know that with you having run so many of these we will judge races by different yardsticks and there is understandable disappointment with it not being the best race. Still, I say congrats for getting it done. Also, I love your perspective after the race, good, bad or indifferent it was at least a training run for something better.

    I sure hope you keep posting these. :)

  2. I think it's awesome (not to mention impressive) how much perspective you were able to maintain with all of this. Sometimes I think that can be one of the more challenging things about running: being able to keep your head on straight both during and after the fact if things don't go the way you envisioned them. And holy cow, I cannot fathom getting through the remaining 16 miles of a marathon if the wheels started falling off big time at mile 10! That seriously makes me shudder just thinking about it. It sounds like getting through this race required a lot of grit, which I'm sure will help you out a lot at your 50K next month! Congrats on getting it done.

  3. Good job pushing through!

    I had roughly the same experience at last year's Chicago, when I too was undertrained and ran a big negative split and finished off what I had been hoping for but was still glad just to finish. Like you, I had and still have pretty lukewarm feelings about that race. Chicago is Chicago and it was a great experience, but looking back, I'm not entirely sure it was worth it. If it were any other race I'm pretty sure I would have DNSed or dropped to a shorter distance due to my lack of preparation, so kudos to you for at least showing up and finishing what you started.

    In all honesty these "lukewarm" marathons are almost worse than the ones that go really poorly because they're not great but they're not bad enough to put the fire for redemption in your belly or teach you any lessons you didn't already know. There's just not much to take away from them, really - just a rather anticlimactic chapter in the long running journey.

    Well, I hope you continue to update your blog (although, I completely understand the desire to just quit. I've pretty much done the same). And I hope that switching gears with your ultramarathon and upcoming IM breathes some new life into your running!