Official chip time: 2:58:12, 51st overall, 3rd in 40-44 age group
Splits: 13.1M – 1:30:07 (6:53/mile), 20M – 2:17:53 (6:54/mile):, 26.2M – 2:58:12 (6:48/mile)
Where do I start? I guess 6am on race morning is as good a place as any. Breakfast was my usual liquid Sustained Energy. I don’t do too well with solids before a long run, so I stick to the tried and tested 2 or 3 scoops of SE mixed in 24oz water; far easier to consume & digest then the traditional bagels, bananas & Gatorade than many runners favor. Race day gear was already laid out the night before so it was just a question of getting dressed and heading to the start line. Once outside the hotel I did feel a little chilly, but knowing I’d soon warm up once the race was underway, I knew I’d made a good choice with the CW-X compression shorts and Running Etc. singlet.
As we made our way to the UPS bag drop, I suggested we turn on our Garmins to lock in a good signal. Mine worked fine, but Ally’s just wouldn’t turn on. I tried everything I could think of, including a hard reset, but it was just dead. Great. We weighed up some options (go back to the hotel for a Nike stopwatch/wear my Garmin and I’d go without) but in the end Ally decided to just run it and use the on course clocks as a guide. To make the math easy we rounded up her goal pace to 10 minutes/mile and figured this would work almost as good as wearing a Garmin. Cool, panic over.
As you can imagine, time passed quickly and after waiting in line for a final port-a-john visit, it was time to head to the start. After a “good luck/be safe” exchange, Ally hopped into the 2nd or 3rd corral and I made my way to corral #1 to try to find Matt Lofton and a few other friends who were running the marathon. I spotted the crazy 3:10 pacer Tommy Neeson who was running/pacing his 6th marathon in 7 weeks and exchanged a few words. He knew my lofty sub-3:00 goal and joked “I’ll see you at 23 miles Bulldog!” Nice. By the way, if you ever get chance to run with one of Tommy’s pace groups….do it. If you can put up with the non-stop chatter and banter, he’ll definitely drag you along to your goal time. His pacing is superb!
I looked around for Matt’s “shaved head, tattoos and glasses”, but couldn’t find him. Damn. Maybe I should look for his Brooks Launch instead? Still no luck. Damn. Looks like I’m running on my own. With that, a guy in a woolly beanie and dark glasses appeared before me — “Are you Steve?” Cool, Matt had found me, and with just a minute or two left before the off, I started to think about the race.
As we crossed the start line, I pressed start on the Garmin and simultaneously held the two buttons to lock the bezel. I’d experienced some horrible Garmin 405 problems in the rainy Frederick Marathon earlier this year and definitely didn’t want a repeat. With the Garmin taking care of, it was time to find a groove and settle in for the 26.2 miles that lay ahead.
The 6:52 goal pace came as easy as the conversation with Matt and I remember shaking my head in disbelief at the steady stream of runners charging ahead of us. I think I joked with Matt that we’d be reeling them in later on and sure enough we definitely did. The first two or three miles were enjoyable but rather uneventful. The mood was relaxed and Matt and I were matching each others pace with apparent ease. Three miles turned into six and before I knew it we were heading down the first real “hill” where I’d [foolishly] trashed my quads a few years ago. The party zone was awesome, but I managed to contain the adrenaline and held myself back. No way was I running faster than a 1:30 first half this year.
Next up was the eight mile mark and the picturesque two miles along the river which is probably my favorite part of the race. Despite the cool conditions, I’d made sure to drink water at every drink station so far and by the time we reached ten, I realized I wouldn’t be able to make it to the finish without (a) some severe discomfort or (b) a brief stop, but I kept pushing through the feeling hoping it would go away.
We cruised the next three miles and crossed the 13.1 timing mat in 1:30:06. Excellent! I knew a few of our DailyMile/Twitter friends were tracking us and felt good knowing that we’d executed the first half of the plan almost perfectly. Matt joked we should say that we didn’t find each other at the start line, we just ran our own races and the matching half split must have been a coincidence. At this point, I need to stress that this was one of the most enjoyable 13.1 miles I’ve ever run. I tend to enjoy my own company when I’m running long or racing hard, but having Matt at my side helped the miles fly by and definitely helped keep the pressure off. Cheers Matt!
I think I managed another mile before the urge to pee took over. I believe I’m right in saying Matt thought it was 16 miles when I stopped, but I’m sure it was nearer 14. Anyway, I remember telling Matt not to slow down or wait for me and if he needed to pick up the pace, to go for it. I really didn’t want to stop, but I *had* to if you know what I mean. Luckily the port-o-johns were empty (yeah, Ally, I know there’s usually a queue when you pass by), and the pit-stop only cost me about 45 seconds. However, as I looked further along the road, the 45 seconds was enough to put Matt well out of sight.
I tried not to panic and run a crazy fast mile, but did make a concerted effort to pick up the pace with the hope of reeling in Matt and the other runners who’d leapfrogged me. Despite the extra effort however, the next two mile splits were the slowest of the race so far. WTH? How can that be? I can’t remember what mile the bridge comes into play, but this was when I caught sight of Matt and his orange Brooks Launch. Actually, the Launch turned out to be quite a winner on the course, with several “Cool shoes!” comments and one “Halloween was last month” remark. Nice.
I know others have commented on the severity of the wind on the bridge, but it actually felt okay to me this year. I remember looking down to my left at the fast-flowing river and just focusing on fast legs and good form. Sure, it was windy, but I guess us little guys are better off than most.
The next point of interest was the lame “Wet Washcloth” station. My fingers were sticky from my hand-held flask of Perpetuem and I was REALLY looking forward to a cold, refreshing towel. Mine, however, was bone dry and rough as an old sack. I tossed it back to one of the volunteers and just about managed to grab another from the last table. This one was just as bad as the first. Oh well, can’t win them all. I guess sticky fingers are better than a lot of marathon ailments.
Just ahead I noticed good friend and local runner Jon Leiding who appeared to be struggling a little. I shouted out to let him know I was approaching which seemed to do the trick and get him going again. We ran side by side for a while until the 18 mile water stop, which was another turning point for me as I experienced a huge wave of adrenaline. Not sure where it came from, but it really spurred me on. Just before the 19, I finally caught up with Matt. I’d been watching him from a distance for several miles and his stride was still fast and his form pretty good. He also stood out from the crowd as one of the stronger runners. So many were fading at this point, but he kept chipping along just like in the early miles.
I’m not sure how far we ran together, but I remember asking how he was doing. His reply “I’m not feeling good or bad, I’m just feeling….” summed it up I guess. I could also tell it was a bit of a struggle to chat and at one point Matt explained the “feeling of nauseousness” every time he tried to speak. My 19th mile split was a 6:40 and the fastest of the race so far. After working so hard to catch Matt, I was really in a good groove now. The momentum was tremendous and I couldn’t really help but push the pace. Now, post-race, I feel a little guilty that I didn’t try harder to coax Matt through the rough patch he was experiencing. Sorry Matt. I just couldn’t help myself.
Mile 20 was a little slower at 6:48, but I managed to speed up in the next mile and record another 6:40. I must say the crowds underneath the arch into Pope Avenue (?) were fantastic and in a slightly bizarre moment, just past Mile 21, I remember announcing “ONLY five miles to go!” to an enthusiastic group of spectators. What an idiot. Who says that in the closing stages of a marathon? It was weird though….I really felt like it was *only* five miles to go, unlike last year when the last five miles felt like fifty.
Now my focus turned to the runners ahead. I imagined each runner to be in my age group and concentrated on reeling them in one by one. The next three miles were wonderful – 6:31, 6:22 and 6:28 — and were probably the best of the whole race. I experienced a slight lull in Mile 25 (6:32), but the lure of the Masters runners ahead kept me trying oh so hard. If you haven’t run Richmond before, the last mile is something special.
After a quick right turn, followed by a quick left turn, the finish line comes into view, and from this point on it’s all downhill with wall to wall spectators. My right quad was on the verge of cramping, but there was one more guy I just HAD to pass. I let everything go and stormed down the hill to the finish, comfortably beating the guy I’d set my sights on. I can’t wait to see the grimace on my face in the official photos — I’m sure they’ll be ugly 🙂
I grabbed some water, proudly accepted my medal and turned to wait for Matt to finish. Three hours came and went but no sign of Matt. I hoped nothing serious had happened but went to grab another water to have ready for him all the same. Seconds later, Matt comes charging down the hill for a new PR by a huge 5 minute margin. I handed him the water, congratulated him and backed off to give him some space…..that finally-finished-a-marathon feeling is a weird one and sometimes you just need to be left alone. I also knew he’d be waiting for his best friend to finish up too, so I congratulated him once again and made my way to the post-race food. This time I bumped into good friend Jon who actually ran faster than his Boston earlier this year (3:07) and his wife Christine who ran a great 1:54 half marathon. Excellent work!
Finally I was able to collect my bag from the UPS truck, head back to the hotel for a quick shower, DM/Twitter update before heading back out on the course to cheer Ally home. I arrived back at the finish line just as the four hour racers were finishing. The commitment from these runners trying to break the magic four was amazing. You really can’t fail to be inspired by anyone who signs up to challenge the mighty 26.2!
Anyway, back up the hill I go to pick out a “quiet” spot to cheer for Ally. Minutes later, here she comes – big smile on her face and looking very comfortable. She’d smashed her sub-4:30 goal and done it without watch or Garmin, and more importantly for her….injury free. Congrats Ally — very proud of you!
My official finish time was 2:58:12 — 51st place overall and 3rd in the 40-44 age group. (Luckily two of the guys in my age group were promoted to the overall Masters category, leaving me with an award of some sort.) However, the stat I am most pleased with is as follows:
11th place in my age group at 13.1 miles, 8th at the 20 mile mark and a very satisfying 3rd at the finish. My last 10k was probably one of the best in 26 marathon attempts and gives me great confidence as I plan my future races.
Thanks to everyone on DailyMile for the amazing support. 16 weeks ago I broke my foot and was forced into six weeks with zero running. DailyMile has helped me stay motivated and provided me with constant encouragement and good wishes. It’s been a tough four months, but I finally feel like I’m back. Not quite to my best, but it’s a good start and definitely something to build on.