I admit it. I've been holding back. I wasn't trying to be deceptive, I just didn't want to jinx myself. Now that the race is over I can finally throw it out there. The truth is...I haven't enjoyed running very much in over a month. I stayed optimistic about my training and this race itself right up to the end, but I've known for weeks that things weren't going exactly as I had envisioned when I devised my training schedule all those many months ago. It started around week 8 with the fatigue issues that resulted in me ditching almost all of my cycling. Then weeks 11, 12, and 13 (my high mileage weeks of 47, 50 and 47 miles) had exhausted me again and had me entering the 3 week taper with almost no enthusiasm and maybe even a little sense of dread for each run. Fortunately, marathoning as a whole, is so much more about the journey than it is the destination so I'll be able to chalk it up to lessons learned and make better decisions for future attempts.
And what a great journey it was. Over the past 16 weeks I've completed a trail race and a road race in the top 5, I ran the 10k run leg of a triathlon with a great results, I've set new PR's on my 6, 8, and 10 mile dedicated training routes, and most importantly I've stayed active, healthy and uninjured. This 16 week journey does end on a something less than stellar note since I didn't achieve the result that I had set out training for, but even on that downward note there is still the glimmer of the one statistical achievement that I did take home from the Richmond Marathon...a nice new PR for this course and distance.
Now if you had asked me on race morning about goals and strategy I would have said "I've got to win this thing. Just get in front and stay there." That would have been a programmed response. I knew at the starting line that my taper had been lethargic and never resulted in that enthusiasm for the big event that usually accompanies the taper period. I also knew I would be fortunate to find the energy or will to achieve any of my goals which included a BQ time of 3:15 or better, the pre-rule change BQ time of 3:20, and then just a 3:25 which seemed statistically likely based on my better training runs. The idea of beating last years time of 3:35 seemed like such a given that not doing it never really entered my mind at all.
So with the race starting at 8am I begin my pre-race traditions around 6:30. The Holiday Inn we were staying at offered a typical breakfast assortment of foods including my pre race standards of oatmeal and coffee. Denise and I then walked 6-8 blocks to the race start where I consumed a muscle milk at 7 am followed by 1/3rd of 2.2 ounce Raw Revolution food bar at 7:30. We watched the 8k'ers and 1/2 marathoners take off, I did some warm up exercises and that left just enough time for a good luck kiss before taking my spot in the starting corral.
Even though I was skeptical of reaching my goals, I was intent to stick to the strategy of holding a pace in the low 7's. As the race got underway, I quickly established a 7:11 pace and held it for a good long while. I hit the 10k split at 44:58, just a few seconds slower than last years 44:46. I wasn't racing last years splits, but rather took this as a sign that I was doing a good job holding back and pacing myself. I hit the 13.1 mile mark at 1:36:02, again just a bit slower than last year when I reached it in 1:35:45. At this point I couldn't have asked for a better race and I was starting to feel some optimism for my chances at a 3:15 finish.
However, the similarities with last year did not stop there. Actually, the similarities with last year are somewhat remarkable. Both years mile 17 sees my per mile pace drop into the 8's and sometime before mile 20 the 3:20 pace team has to breeze on by and leave me scratching my head. I hit the 20 mile split at 2:33:25 compared to last years 2:33:17 Knowing at this point that a BQ was off the table, I just didn't see any reason to push for anything more than a PR. My feet felt ready for some relief so I decided to take long walk breaks through the aid stations. I figured at a minimum if I can walk 2/10th of a mile and then run the other 8/10ths fast enough to take my pace for that mile into the 9's, then a PR would be a sure thing.
My new, less ambitions, race goal seemed to be working for the first two miles, then, just like last year, I started getting some involuntary muscular responses.I had thought the NUUN tablets would have prevented this, and maybe they did help some because it never did get as bad as it did last year, but every 1/2 mile or so my calves would spasm for 15 seconds or so. It was enough to make me want to stop, but I pushed through it although it was slowing me down. My last two miles dropped into the low 10's and I was in danger of not even getting a PR.
As I turned the corner for the final downhill to the finish I looked at the clock and saw a 3:32 and change and knew I was a roughly 2/10th's away. If I had seen a 3:35 I probably would have walked it for no better than I was feeling, but knowing that a deep push would give me a PR I went ahead and pushed it for a 3:34:12 finish. I don't know exactly what the nurse at the finish line saw in me that made me seem needy, but she identified herself as a nurse and propped me up enough to get me through collecting my finishers medal and getting through the food lines until my family could get to me.
I was literally thrilled to walk away from this race with a PR. PR's are gold in this business. I know that my long term goals as a runner include something a bit faster than what I did at this race, but I wasn't going to let that diminish my accomplishment. Learning a lesson is a step in the right direction and getting a PR, even if it was only by 1 min 18 sec is confirmation that I am still learning and improving.
Garmin statistics comparing Richmond '10 to Richmond '11
Last years race recap
The Suntrust Richmond Marathon
2011-time: 3:34:12 (chip), pace: 8:07/M, Place 527/3787 overall, 68/327 in my age group, 446/2140 among men