It’s taken me a while to start writing this recap. As I sit here, still trying to collect my thoughts about the Richmond Half Marathon, I’m experiencing so many different emotions. I am 1000% proud of myself and my body for running a strong, smart, first half post-broken wing. But if I’m being completely honest, I’m also sitting here wondering if maybe I played it too smart. Too safe. Too conservative. Sure, I was nervous my body wouldn’t remember how to run the last 1.1 miles. Worried that my knee wouldn’t survive the whole race. Worried that my body wasn’t ready to run faster. The week of the race, Coach gave me a loose race plan. We both know that I push myself more, and run more of what I’m capable of, when I don’t think about pace and just listen to what she tells me. We decided I would run the paces of the race plan only if my body (read: my knee) cooperated. Otherwise, I would run the race easy. Either way, I just wanted to smile, enjoy the race, and enjoy the day.
I don’t want you to think I didn’t love this race. I LOVED THIS RACE. I loved everything about this race. The volunteers were incredible. The course was great. There were some hills but if you’ve trained on hills there was nothing too bad. The spectators were out with their families and children with signs and cowbells. I really can’t express how much I loved this course and this race.
I ultimately chose the Richmond Half Marathon as my first race back because it felt “quiet.” A smaller race. Away from New York. Less pressure. Ashley was running the marathon. It seemed like the perfect choice. Ashley offered to let me join her family for the weekend and I was sold.
I spent the greater part of race week obsessing over the forecasted cold weather and whether or not my body would remember how to run the last 1.1 miles of a half marathon. I literally packed all of my running clothes and decided I would make a last-minute decision of what to wear on race day.
We took the train to New Jersey early Friday morning and flew to Richmond. We ate lunch, went to the expo, and were blissfully relaxing by early afternoon. It was all so simple. The complete opposite of a New York City race.
Ashley and I woke up early on race morning to allow enough time to eat, drink some water, and let my non-stomach-of-steel do its thing. I was still undecided about what to wear when I woke up. We went downstairs to get Ashley some pre-race coffee and decided to go outside to “test the weather.” You know, see how cold 27 degrees actually felt. I ended up choosing capris, my Oiselle singlet, and arm warmers. I could’ve worn shorts, and almost wish I had, but wasn’t at all uncomfortable during the race. We went back upstairs, put on all of our throwaway clothes, and finished getting ready. Our hotel was very close to the start so we didn’t leave until around 7am to walk over. I was incredibly thankful that Ashley decided to leave with me and stay with me until I had to get in my corral for my 7:40 am start. The marathon started 10 minutes later. We had just enough time to use the port-a-potties and give each other a pep talk before we parted ways. As I stood in the corral, waiting to start, I thought about this year. I thought about how I was finally at a start line. I thought about how hard I worked to get there. I thought about all the small victories. I thought about all the setbacks, how many times my body tried to kick me when I was down, and how I never gave up even though there were many times I wanted to.
I started to cry and wished Ashley was still with me. Little did I know she had sent me a text while I was in the corral. “You’ve got this! When it gets tough. Remember that! Love you!” I didn’t see this until I finished but I was so thankful to share this weekend with her. Or, should I say, thankful that she let me share the weekend with her. I couldn’t control the tears at the start and decided not to fight it. It was okay to be emotional. It was okay to cry. It had been a long journey to get to this point.
Once I crossed the start line, the tears were immediately replaced with a smile and an overall sense of gratitude that I was getting the chance to do what I loved again. At that point, I still wasn’t sure if I would finish but I was certain I would try my absolute best. I had tried to do some pre-race strides, to warm up my muscles (and my knee), but I couldn’t do them. My knee felt off. I told Ashley whatever was going to happen was going to happen and I was just going to hope for the best and start. I think it was just the freezing cold, and my frozen muscles, not allowing for any fast moves until I warmed up a little more.
It was freezing at the race start. Literally. 27 degrees. For the first two miles or so I couldn’t feel my legs, or feet, and wasn’t sure of my pace without looking at my watch. When I saw paces faster than I’m used to seeing during the first few miles of a long run I gave myself a pep talk to reel it in a bit. It was only mile one, after all. But these paces felt comfortable. Was that possible? Have I just been scared this whole training cycle? Or was it the adrenaline and excitement of race day? I pulled back a little; not wanting to crash and burn early in the race. As the miles ticked by, quickly, and my body began to warm up and feel comfortable at paces I didn’t know I was capable of right now, I decided I would rather crash and burn and walk if I had to than run the race too conservatively and not give it all I had. I wasn’t racing per se, but I wanted to try my best and run what I was capable of right now. There’s a huge difference between not racing and not trying your best. I wasn’t trying to break any records but I wanted to finish the race knowing I tried my best. Like much of my training.
The plan that Coach gave me during race week (if you’re into that sort of thing) was:
4 miles: 10:30-10:45
5 miles: 10:10-10:20
1 mile: 10:30-10:45
3.1 miles: 9:50-10:10
Somewhere in the first two miles I saw Ashley’s mom and brother cheering for me. I saw them earlier than expected and it took me a second to realize it was them. Her mom was even running alongside of me on the other side of the road. It gave me a huge boost as I started my first 13.1 mile journey this year.
The first few miles ran through downtown Richmond (I think that’s downtown anyway). We had driven this part of the race course on our way to the expo the day before so I knew what to expect. Somewhere around mile two, the elite men passed me, and the marathon and half marathon course split off from each other; the marathon course goes left and the half marathon course goes right.
Mile 1-4: 10:27, 10:39, 10:32, 10:29
Somewhere around mile four, when I was supposed to pick up with pace, we started running through neighborhoods. I loved this part of the race. People out on their lawns. Cheering. Celebrating. Cowbelling. Holding signs. Their children holding signs. We did a short out and back at this point which was great because you can see all of the other runners. Even the faster pace was feeling comfortable and controlled. Then the race took us through a park. It was more like the woods. We ran down a decent sized hill and I thought to myself (and seeing the runners on the other side was a dead giveaway) what goes down, must come up! Yikes! In reality, if you’ve trained in Central Park, none of the hills during the race were too bad. I trained on hills and I was more than trained and ready for the rolling hills in this race. Whoever said this race is flat is kind of a liar. I think we were in the park for about a mile and a half. It was really pretty with the late fall foliage all around you. These were very peaceful miles as no one was cheering down in the park. It was quiet in a good way.
Mile 5-9: 10:10, 10:07, 10:08, 10:17, 10:09
I think after the park, when we were back on some main roads, the hills were over. There were people out cheering again, giving out beer, shots of whiskey, and there was a rumored junk stop around mile nine but I must have missed it. Somewhere around mile 10, I noticed the marathon mile 23 marker and remember telling myself that Ashley would feel way worse than I felt at this point and I that I was feeling pretty good and could maybe push a little harder. Throughout the entire course, the marathon markers continued to remind me of Ashley and push me. I knew she was working towards a big goal that day. It was very inspiring to keep thinking about her.
Mile 10: 10:22
For the last 3.1 miles of the race I still felt good but started playing that game with myself. Only a 5K left to go. 20 minutes of running left to go. ONE MILE LEFT TO GO! I had so many thoughts going through my mind. I’m going to finish. Finish strong. I haven’t walked yet. It’s going to feel amazing when I cross that finish line. The finish is so close. Oh, the marathon mile 25 marker, I wonder how Ashley is feeling. Even though this is the best I’ve ever felt during a half marathon, I was still pushing myself for those last few miles. I turned a few corners and a man yelled out, “One turn left until the downhill finish.” That was just what I needed to pick it up and finish strong. I turned the last corner and could see the downhill to the finish. That downhill finish feels amazing but it’s NO JOKE. It felt like if I ran any faster I might tumble down the hill (and like maybe my knee would buckle). I swear I could’ve run the last 0.18 even faster if it weren’t for my knee. I was literally flying. I started getting a little emotional when the finish line was in sight. Once I crossed the finish line I couldn’t fight the tears. And, like at the start line, I didn’t try to. I was allowed to be proud of myself. I was allowed to be emotional. I was allowed to cry tears of happiness. I was allowed to cry after finishing my first half marathon this year.
I got my medal, my amazing fleece finisher’s blanket, some water, and I started to make my way back up the hill to find Ashley’s family and cheer for her now. I called my family once I got out of the finisher’s area and was still crying. I think I cried the entire mile back to meet Ashley’s family. I looked at my watch.
Was it possible? Did I just run my second fastest half marathon? After the year I’ve had, I never imagined I could run this half marathon in under 2:15, even though Leticia told me she thought I could after my last 12 mile run. I honestly thought she was crazy.
Mile 11-13.1: 9:54, 9:54, 9:22, last 0.18 8:33
Official Finish Time: 2:14:06 (exactly three minutes off my PR)
Perhaps I could’ve run even faster? If I’m being completely honest, I was a little upset in the couple of days following the race. I felt let down. I never felt truly uncomfortable at any point during the race. I wasn’t really that sore after a day or two. Dare I say my legs and knee felt good? In the end, I choked those feelings up to some post-race blues. Now that I’ve had a couple of weeks to reflect I’m only proud of myself. Proud of how far I’ve come this year. Proud of never giving up during training. Proud of listening to my body for 12 weeks and pulling back when it told me to.
After nine months of a broken bone, injuries, and more DNS’s than I care to think about, it felt amazing to end 2014 with a win when I crossed the finish line of the Richmond Half Marathon. It was so much better than I ever could’ve expected. I ultimately had zero expectations going into this race. My two goals were simple; get to the start line and get to the finish line. And after a very long year, it felt amazing to cross the finish line and achieve those goals.
I spent the rest of the day cheering for Ashley, who ran a 3:28, scored her first BQ, and PR’d by almost 20 minutes (if you haven’t already congratulated her on incredible accomplishment, you should right now) and drinking champagne to celebrate our perfect day in Richmond.
This race left me excited for 2015 and going back into training healthy and strong next year. That’s my only plan for the next three months; to get healthy and strong. Coach and I may already have something up our sleeves for spring 2015. And I’m almost 100% certain I’ll be back to run the Richmond Marathon next fall. Stay tuned!
Have you ever surprised yourself at a race?
Have you ever run the Richmond Marathon?
What’s your favorite fall marathon?