Last Saturday morning was the 2005 Richmond Marathon, which was the first marathon for both Angela (my wife) and myself. We couldn’t have possibly asked for a better day to run a marathon, or for that matter, better conditions in which to have prepared for the marathon over the past six months. We’ve been members of the Sportsbackers Marathon Training Team, which is an outstanding organization here in Richmond which has become one of the largest of its kind in the country. I thought, since I’ve spent so much of the past six months posting updates on the blog, I’d write a final recap of the event, including what I was thinking at the time and what I’ve learned in doing this.
I had a good night’s sleep on Friday, save for the three times to get up to use the bathroom (I’ve never been so well hydrated in my life was already looking forward to drying out). I’d been told I’d be lucky if I slept at all, but any nervousness I was feeling wasn’t really keeping me up. I was forcing myself to only concentrate in getting to the start line in order to prevent the overwhelming thought of having to run for hours on end. I’d worry about the immediate step and just wait for the next one to come.
Angela bundled up in the cold as we take some photographs of the training team groups (photo courtesy of Angela Robinson).
Angela and I left to meet with the training group before hand for some large group photos. She was able to locate her running buddy but I kept losing her all morning. The last time I saw her that morning was as we were finding the UPS trucks serving as bag checks to hand over everything we weren’t running with. I tried hunting around for my wife right up until the mass of runners began surging forward as I wanted to give her some last words of encouragement. It turns out she didn’t really need it, but I had the next four-and-a-half hours to feel bad about it.
The First Half
The course represents most every part of the city (save the East side) and is really very great scenery. Since I had lost my usual running partners (the ones who made the race, at least) while looking for Angela, I was on my own for most of the whole race. That was okay with me, since running has always been my "me time." I am usually perfectly content to just enjoy the views along the way. I ended up seeing a few familiar faces along the way, both runners and bystanders alike, which was good enough for me.
While running in a tank-top and high-steppers seemed like a good idea, it resulted in an uncomfortable run (photo courtesy of Brightroom Photography).
The temperature had warmed up so much in the sunshine that I ditched my jacket and gloves after only a mile or so, while still on Broad Street, just in front of the Science Museum. I had been wearing one of those throw-away Tyvek jackets and a pair of cheap cloth gloves which I wouldn’t feel bad about not returning home with. My race dress consisted of just a team singlet and high-cut shorts for the entire race. Since these are essentially what the elite runners wear, I felt good about wearing these. As it turns out, that was my biggest mistake of the race. Looking back over my training, I think that correcting for that was quite obvious. However, I had convinced myself that if that’s what the fast, elite runners wore then it must be beneficial.
My body chemistry is such that my sweat leaves behind an extraordinary amount of salt crystals. You remember that steamy Heart Shaped World video for Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game; the one where they rolled around in the beach sand? Well, I look just like that, once you’ve removed all the sexy and cool. That being the case, I had brought along a small stick of Body Glide to help ward off the skin friction. I stopped just past the half-way point, and even again at 18 miles, but to no good. Dragging a waxy stick across gritty, raw flesh just only makes the problem worse. Also, running and sweating only makes the problem worse, but that’s just what I had to do for another 13.1 miles. I figure wearing a pair of tight, spandex shorts and a t-shirt would have prevent most, if not all, of these problems. It was far too late to do anything about that now, though.
The crowds cheering for me and all the finishers near the end of the race felt incredibly great (photo courtesy of Brightroom Photography).
A simple little running hack I learned from other members of the training group who had been through the program before is that many runners in the "rest" of the pack write their names across their racing shirts. It is really hard to describe just how great it feels to have strangers in the sidelines cheering you on by name. There’s that small drip of adrenaline that comes from having your named called out that lifts your chin up and makes you run tall. Running through a large crowd with people standing rows deep on each side can shave miles off of the run already behind you. Of everything that I did just before the race, taking ten minutes and a Sharpie had the highest dividend. I can’t imagine really doing this on just a 10k, but I honestly don’t know how I’d finish a marathon without doing it. It really is that encouraging to have so many people out there cheering you on in the cold and treating you like the hero of the, if only for just a split second.
Angela enjoys the views and the sunshine along Riverside Drive, just before reaching mile nine (photo courtesy of Brightroom Photography).
Somewhere around mile 15 (I think), I saw one of the coaches for the training group who worked with Angela’s group (her name is also Angela). She recognized me and told me she had talked to Angela just a short while ago and that she was looking great. That was a great boost. Just thinking about my wife’s smiling face when she’s around people always cheers me up. Of course, I’d soon find that thinking about my wife too much was going to bring up too many emotions.
I stopped just before running onto the Lee Bridge at about mile 15 to take a snapshot of the runners spread out ahead of me.
I carried my camera-phone with me to take a few snapshots of the race course along the way. I stopped at either end of the Lee Bridge and took some photos. I didn’t need the break too much at that point, but to see all those people running across that bridge was kind of an awesome sight. I don’t think my little camera quite captured the moment, but then again, there’s a lot of things that are hard to even describe about the race. I did realize, though, that I wasn’t there as a journalist but as a runner. Of course, there were other people snapping photos all along the way and I can understand why. This is a huge deal for most of us, and we want to remember it and share it with others. One thing that amazed me was the fact that so many people were talking on their cell phones during the race. While it’s easy to dismiss this as cell phone addiction, I can appreciate the idea of hearing from some distant family or friends to bring some encouragement during the course. My brother, Dave, even tried calling me but I didn’t hear the phone ring since it was buried down in my Camelbak.
I had essentially been walking at every water stop along the course, just long enough to get down a cup of water and then run on. Stopping for a potty break at mile ten had added some more time as well, but none of those had really been because I needed a break from the run. After about mile 16, though, I began needing walk about a block during the water stops, which were about every two miles. I kept telling myself to just run a little bit further; just to the next water stop and then take a break. Then, I had to fall back to taking a break every mile. This was becoming sort of a mental challenge now, and I needed to prevent myself from having to take any more breaks than necessary.
The Last 10K
I had reached the 20 mile split at just under 3:30 minutes, which was faster than I had run any of the three 20 milers during training. That was a great feeling that picked me up for just a bit. I had managed to maintain a fairly even pace for the first 20 to keep on track for finishing in my goal time of 4:30. However, I still had 6.2 miles to finish. While I had run further on my own, prior to this training a 10k was the longest race I had ever run. I knew I was going to finish, the only question was how many walking breaks. I would need for between here and then end.
One of the things I really hadn’t expect was the emotion component of the run. A friend had told me how he irrationally sobbed for nearly a mile while running past the 22 mile mark on his second marathon. I imagine when a person’s body starts reaching this level of exhaustion, it can be expected that their nerves start to become a little raw. It effects everyone differently, some people not all, I’m sure. I found myself suffering from a next-day soup of emotions any time I though about Angela. From having a overwhelming sense of pride in what she was doing, concern for her since she’d had some problems with shins and cramps earlier, as well as regret for not seeing her immediately before the start; it was all starting to wear on me. I was having to force myself to concentrate on other things, namely the task at hand, and not on her. However, making one force their wife out of their mind can be equally emotionally troubling. So much so, in fact, that my eyes began welling up several times uncontrollably. I did my best to refocus and in fact, running by several crowds helped to take my mind off of it long enough to calm down.
Other than the emotional troubles, there was also the fact that the flesh on my legs and and under my right arm was looking increasingly like raw meat. The cold, wet hand towels being passed out at mile 23 were like a soggy piece of heaven. I was able to clean off the Margarita rim like salt crust off of my forehead as well as try and wipe off the salt crystals in some of the more damaged areas causing trouble. Then, I ran out of sports drink in my Camelbak just before mile 24. Not too much of a problem, in reality, but there’s nothing like sucking on an empty water hose to fill you full of that "you’re done for now" feeling. I was drinking two cups of red sports drink at the mile 24 water stop to reassure myself when one of my coach friends from the training team came running up beside me. He asked if I was doing some sort of run/walk thing, which was no doubt a sincere question and he was simply checking in with me. My raw nerves took this as a accusation (of what, I don’t know) and I answered that yes I was walking the water stops to give my body some short breaks. However, it jolted me into the realization that with just over two miles to go, now was not the time to be walking. He also asked if I had had any muscle problems during the run. I had been extremely fortunate in the fact that I had not had any sort of muscle cramps for over four hours, but I was beginning to notice some in my calves. I took one last moment away from running on the Belvedere bridge over I-95 to stretch both legs and then ran the remainder of the race.
Crossing the finish line in just under 4:40. My final chip time was 4:36, just a few minutes more than my goal (photo courtesy of Brightroom Photography).
The last half-mile of the race (maybe more, actually) is all downhill into a funnel of cheering fans and blaring commentators. Hearing those people shouting and then the announcer call my name and number as I came up to the finish line was like having blinders taken off. Had I really just done all that? My mind, in a matter of seconds, retraced the route I had just been on. Sure enough, I had just run a marathon.
After The Race
Runner’s receive medals and are covered in foil blankets after crossing the finish line. They’re also handed a bottle of water and have their timing chips removed from their shoes before heading out of the corral.
Upon crossing the finish line, you’re given a foil blanket, a bottle of water, and a finisher’s medal. The medal is the sort of thing that normally would feel somewhat cheesy to me. I didn’t exactly come in for bronze, let alone first place. However, having some 20 year old kid put that chintzy piece of steel around my neck felt special. If a person can actually have a huge smile at the same time they’re cringing in pain, then that’s exactly what I was doing. The achievement pales in comparison to what so many people ran that day, including a winner with a new course record. However, the achievement was mine. I just needed one last reminder of that.
Just as I was leaving the chip removal corral, I saw the owner of one of the local running stores. This guy has treated my wife and I like crap every time we’ve gone in his shop (and most friends tell similar stories). I felt like telling him "You know, I just ran a f^@*ing 26.2 mile race, so next time I come in, why don’t you at least treat me like a customer, huh?" But why? I didn’t run it for him, or anyone one else. I did this to prove to myself I could do it. I had to know, and now I did know. I was capable of going further than I had ever before. I just walked on past him. He will probably never consider a guy like me an athlete. However, I don’t have shop at his place and frankly, I don’t consider myself an athlete, either. I’m just a guy who enjoys running and just learned his limits are way beyond where he ever thought they were.
I walked down to the UPS trucks which had held onto my bag for the past few hours. I found a small sidewalk edge near an alley to sit down and put on some pants and a long sleeve t-shirt. I put all my things away, but kept out the medal and my race number. I wanted people around to know that I belonged. More than that, I really wanted to enter the runner’s food tent for something solid and not sugary. Luckily, they had pizza and bagels. I sat down for a while eating my slice of pizza and drinking some more sports drink. After all the sugar I’d had all day, I really didn’t want anymore, but at least this was a different flavor. I found myself obsessing about brushing my teeth.
Angela is just beaming smiles as she runs towards the finish line. You did it, baby! (photo courtesy of Brightroom Photography)
After a while, I got up to walk back uphill to the finish line. There was no way I was going to miss Angela coming across that gate. I cheered for the runners who were still flowing down the hill. They had all been out struggling just as much as I had with the same course and and been enduring it for even longer. They deserved to have people cheering for them, too. After a while, I saw Angela running down the hill. Her coach had said she looked great, and she did. She looked so cool and collected; as if she’d just been out for a casual jog and not the six hour ordeal she’d just been through. Her running pal, Heather, was running along the far side line cheering her on and we both met Angela down outside the corral.
After having some time to collect myself earlier, I was much more stable emotionally than I had expected to be. Angela checked back in with the training team tent and found some food to eat. We walked back to the finish line to cheer on some of the last runners and then headed home. We’d both successfully run the race and had one another together again to congratulate ourselves. It was a long journey, which really lasted six months, not just six hours. The feeling of knowing a little more about what we carry inside of us is going to last a lot longer.