As I sit here the day after the Richmond Marathon, writing my race report, I don’t feel like I just ran a marathon yesterday.
That about sums up my race.
Let me backtrack a bit. On a run 10 days before the marathon my knee started to hurt. It hurt enough to call it a day at 3 miles, then take the next several days off. After switching my shoes and consulting a chiropractor, I tried running again. While it didn’t hurt now, it still had a little pull and wasn’t 100% normal.
My coach advised me to take the following week completely off and then do very short runs the Thursday and Friday before the race. During that week, I set up my bike trainer in the basement and biked the equivalent times I would have run. My knee felt fine and didn’t bother me at all running the two days before the marathon. I focused on the mental aspect of dealing with this extreme taper; I knew the work was done, and I hoped that an 8-mile pre-race week wouldn’t affect my performance.
The elite coordinator Thom had invited me to be the guest speaker at their Sports Backers club dinner Thursday evening and talk at a school Friday morning. Last year they had Desi Linden – quite an act to follow! – but since the race fell on Veteran’s Day this year, Thom (an Air Force Vietnam Veteran himself), thought it would be neat to have a veteran as the speaker. I was very honored and looking forward to talking with and meeting other fellow runners. I thought it would be fun since I used to speak with school groups while in WCAP.
I debated whether to travel to Richmond solo or with the kids. My husband was in the field all week and training nights, and he couldn’t leave until Friday. My Mom was willing to drive over (she lives an hour away) and watch the kids at the hotel while I was at my speaking engagements, but ultimately we decided the easiest thing to do logistically would be to leave them at home with a babysitter while he was working. That meant I wouldn’t have my race support/cheering squad there, but I would hopefully get two nights of solid sleep and time to myself.
The speaking engagements went well. The dinner Thursday evening was coincidentally at the high school my Dad graduated from, and it made me feel like a pro to field questions from a range of people running their first to 20th marathon. Friday I talked with the run club at a military middle school in the city, which was fun. As I relayed some of my Army experiences, I realized that the kids weren’t even born when September 11th happened, an event that had completely shaped my young adult life as a 2001 West Point graduate. That evening I met up with one of my best friends and teammates from college and her boyfriend for an early bird dinner, th
en headed back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep in a crisp, neatly made, all-to-myself bed before race day!
I woke up two hours before the start to eat breakfast, which I had no appetite for and had to force down. I managed to eat a plain bagel, part of a banana, and bottle of water. I took a quick shower to help wake up, then rolled my legs and stretched a bit. I was only a few blocks to the start and wanted to leave the hotel as late as possible since it was below freezing outside and I didn’t want to shiver for too long!
Mentally, I felt good. I had accepted the fact that running a marathon was going to be unpleasant, that I was going to be out there for a long haul, and that it was going to hurt. After dreading it for the last several weeks, I was looking forward to getting it done.
I ran up to the start and got to the line about 20 minutes before go time. It was cold: 25 degrees at the start. My ponytail froze into one solid ice chunk. I kept my sweats on for as long as possible, then stripped down to my shorts, singlet and throwaway gloves. Mistake #1: I should have worn compression socks or sleeves and possibly arm sleeves. I never warmed up the entire race.
I started up front and settled into a comfortable pace. The first mile was 6:23, but I didn’t use my watch too much after the first few miles as I tried to dial into a pace. It was freezing, and it felt like there was a cold wind no matter who I tucked in behind. My next few miles stayed consistent around 6:20-6:22.
I entered this race thinking I was fit enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials (2:45). I felt like I had gotten in a solid training block and that in good conditions I could do it. A OTQ requires a 6:17-8 pace, and I was just slightly off. I didn’t freak out or become discouraged and throw in the towel. I felt good where I was. 6:20-6:22 just happened to be my rhythm that day. I also thought that maybe when I warmed up a bit, I could get into a faster groove.
Around mile 8 I finally began to feel my face and hands again. My throwaway gloves were perfect for gel storage. I always debate pinning my gels to the inside of my shorts or tucking them into my sports bra, both of which result in awful chafing in weird places. I ended up keeping my gloves on the entire race because of the cold and just tucked my gels into them so I didn’t have to hold anything.
I went through the half at 83:16. Still on 6:21 pace, so I’d definitely found my rhythm. I felt good, working but in control. Surprisingly, I was enjoying myself. The marathon was a beautiful course with nice crowd support spread throughout. It seemed to be going by very fast. Normally, even if I don’t look at my watch every mile it still seems like a long drag between the markers, but in this race it felt like the miles just kept clicking away.
If I could keep that consistent pace, I thought I would end up running 2:47-2:48, which I would be happy with. It would make a good starting point for another consistent training cycle. On an easier course in better conditions, I’d be confident to run several minutes faster. While I knew I wasn’t going to negative split it today and qualify for the trials, I was perfectly happy with where I was at and confident I’d maintain it.
And then came mile 18. My quads completely locked up. Sure, at some point in every marathon my legs start to really, really hurt. That’s the nature of pounding the pavement for 26 miles. But this was different. It was serious cramping, enough that I wanted to stop and stretch but didn’t because I knew it would be hard to start again. I felt like I was half stepping, my stride length reduced to nothing. The only thing I could do was try to maintain the same rhythm, although my steps felt incredibly short.
What happened? Maybe the hills finally caught up to me? Richmond is a very hilly course. Some are obvious, others are long stretches that you don’t even notice until you’re running them. The whole thing feels rolling. But I generally run on hilly routes while pushing the stroller, so didn’t think the Richmond hills would bother me that much. Could it have been the cold from wearing shorts? My butt was still numb from cold at the end of the race.
Later that day it dawned on me that my quad cramps were probably the result of my biking for the last 10 days; I hadn’t ridden my bike trainer in years, so starting a new activity to substitute running the week before my race (ie: stressing different muscles) probably wasn’t a genius idea. Mistake #2.
Needless to say, I lost 4-5 minutes the final 8 miles. I got passed by 2 women, handfuls of men, and finally finished as 6th female in 2:52:39.
I was immediately disappointed in myself, because I felt like I had just run, not raced, 26 miles. Which unfortunately characterizes how I’ve felt after many of my races this season.
On the long drive home (only about 3.5 hours driving, but I stopped frequently to walk around and stretch my legs), I did nothing but analyze my race. Did I run slower than hoped for because of environmental factors (the cold and fact that I never warmed up, the hills, my quads) or because I mentally gave up at mile 18 when my quads seized up? I think it was my quads. Mentally I tried; when people passed me, I used that as motivation to go with them. I’d latch on for several paces, then my quads would seize up again and I’d be reduced to half stepping. It was frustrating that my body wouldn’t cooperate with my mind.
Overall, despite the cramping, I enjoyed the marathon. Which I don’t think I’ve ever said before. I wasn’t engulfed in doubts or negative thoughts about quitting. I actually was thinking about what I wanted to run next, which NEVER happens: it’s normally “run fast so you don’t have to do this again.” It went by very quickly for a marathon.
Based on how I feel, I think I’m going to recover quickly. My quads and a very chafed belly button (thanks diastasis recti) are the only battle wounds I have. While taking some recovery time I plan on analyzing my training cycle to see what I can change and revamp for the next one. My buildup for this marathon was good, not great, and just like this race, my intermediary races were mostly lackluster and left me feeling like I hadn’t left it all on the course. And that means it’s time to refocus on what is next.