When my hot and humid spring marathon didn’t go as planned, I was anxious to give it another shot and started looking for a fall marathon. I learned that Matt’s brother Dan had signed up for his first marathon – the Richmond Marathon. I was excited for him and was curious to learn more about the race. It is billed as “America’s Friendliest Marathon” and has a pretty flat course – two things that made it sound pretty appealing to me. It takes place on a Saturday and I realized I had that Friday off for Veterans Day. We would be able to travel and I wouldn’t miss any work. The mid-November race gave me enough time to recover from the last marathon and start a new training segment. We don’t see Dan very often and thought it would be nice to be there to support him. It sounded like the perfect race for so many reasons, so I signed up for the full and Matt signed up for the half. We booked one of the downtown hotels offering a race rate and booked the flight to Virginia.
Unfortunately, my plans for a fall marathon didn’t go as planned. One day in early July my ankle locked up after I pushed too hard between a fast bike ride and a fast walk. It was bad enough for me to take a couple weeks off. When I did try to run again, my ankle still wasn’t quite 100% and I swore my way though a couple miles. Although my ankle healed after that, I started to develop pain in my other foot. By overcompensating for the ankle issue, I ended up with a stress fracture in my other foot. I didn’t get it officially diagnosed until late August. I knew all hope was lost and I wouldn’t recover soon enough to run the marathon. I was pretty upset at first but knew I couldn’t do anything about it. We couldn’t get a refund on our flight, so at the very least I’d go cheer for Matt and his brother. The race also had an 8K option, so I was hopeful that I could recover enough to pull that off.
I spent five weeks in a walking boot and took three more weeks of recovery time after that. I eased back into running very slowly a month before the race. I’d lost most of my fitness and was very cautious because I didn’t want to risk re-injury. It wasn’t all smooth, but I reached a point where I could comfortably run three miles every other day. I dropped down to the 8K and felt reassured when I got through a four-mile run a few days before the race.
We flew from Detroit to Richmond on Thursday night, and a shuttle got us to our hotel by 10:00. We walked a few blocks to Capital Ale House for food since we didn’t have time for dinner before we left.
After only five and a half hours of sleep, we woke up early to head out for a run on Friday morning. I saw a tweet that Bart Yasso (Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World) was planning a shakeout run from the host hotel a few blocks away. It was definitely worth sacrificing some sleep. We met in the lobby with a handful of other runners and Bart took us out for a tour of some scenic spots along the canal that cuts through downtown.
We ran at a very easy, conversational pace. It was awesome getting to chat with Bart. I have sworn his name many times while doing his infamous Yasso 800s speed workouts, but he is the coolest guy and has a ton of great stories. Speaking of great stories, it was fun to meet and talk to the other runners as well. One woman had come all the way from New Zealand. I enjoyed chatting with Derek, a guy who is close to wrapping up 50 marathons in 50 states within the year. We stopped for group photos a couple times. When Bart takes a selfie with other runners, it is fondly referred to as a “Bartie.” We ran a little over three miles and it was a great way to kick off the race weekend.
After showering, we headed out to Virginia Commonwealth University. Matt has a high school friend who is an assistant coach of VCU’s women’s basketball team. Their season opener was that morning, so we walked the mile and half or so down Broad Street to the arena, which took us through the first chunk of the next day’s race route. I’m glad we had an excuse to visit VCU because I didn’t know anything about it and didn’t realize it was such a large school with over 30,000 students. A bunch of local schools had taken field trips to the game, so it was pretty amusing to see thousands of kids screaming for VCU.
During our walk back after the game, we ran into Keith Hanson and his wife and talked to them for a few minutes. Keith is one of the coaches of the Hansons-Brooks team, a group of professional runners who train in the area where we live. One of their runners (an Olympian!), Desi Linden, was scheduled to speak at the expo and run the 8K the next morning. Matt and I took a shuttle to the expo and made it just in time to see Desi and Bart Yasso speak. They discussed the race and held a question and answer session. Someone asked Desi what her mantra is during a race. She says to herself, “Calm, calm, calm. Relax, relax, relax.” It’s a good one that I may have to try myself.
As the talk wrapped up, Matt’s brother Dan and his girlfriend Heather arrived. We walked through the expo together and bought a few things. I love the logo on the official race shirt, but I don’t like how it fits me so I bought another shirt that fits better.
Dan and Heather had driven to the expo, so we all went back downtown together to find a place to eat. Of course that proved to be difficult because it was prime time. I went into Penny Lane Pub to put our name in and waited behind a group that was ahead of me. Several minutes later the old Irish owner came out. He said there wasn’t a table in the house. I couldn’t hear everything he said, but he didn’t take names and gave everyone a business card. It was very odd! We tried a couple other places but they had long wait times, so we went back to the car to try somewhere out of the downtown area. I thought maybe we should try Penny Lane again first since they didn’t seem to have a list! This time the owner said there would be a long wait and there were 100 people in front of us, but took us back to a table. We were very confused, but we finally got some dinner.
At some point there was a major blow-up between a customer and the old man. The customer had been sitting at the table next to us for a while. He was pissed that they couldn’t move people around so his group could all sit together. The owner yelled that the guy came in with 12 people and no reservation and couldn’t expect to sit together. The customer yelled back about how he’d pay for his drinks but not the food. There was plenty of swearing on both ends. A waitress tried to get the customer to talk to “the younger version” of the old man, but there was no reasoning with him. He continued to yell until he finally walked out. Eating there turned out to be quite an experience!
Matt and I walked back to our hotel and I was a bit concerned that my watch said I ended the day with 12.3 miles. We did a LOT more walking than we probably should have the day before a race.
The race times were staggered on Saturday morning, with mine starting first. The 8K started at 7:00 and I left the hotel about 20 minutes before that. Staying in a hotel near the start of a race is SO ideal. I didn’t have to stress about parking, porta-potty lines, etc. I had about a 10-minute walk, dropped my stuff off at the bag check, and weaseled my way up to the correct corral. It was a perfect morning for racing – in the mid-30s and clear, with a little wind but not enough to really bother me. I felt just right in shorts, a long sleeve shirt, and gloves.
I had no idea how to approach this race since most of my recent runs had been slower than a nine-minute pace. I only looked at my watch when I hit the mile splits, taking it by feel. I started out jogging and gradually got faster because I felt okay. The route was a mixture of the downtown, some of VCU’s campus, and neighborhoods. It was a quiet run with very few spectators until we approached the finish. It was pretty and peaceful as we ran through the neighborhoods.
Bart Yasso had taken us to the finish line during our shakeout run, where he showed us that we would finish downhill. We didn’t realize that the downhill stretch was so much longer than we could see. My pace had picked up quite a bit in the fourth mile, but I really flew for the last few minutes of the race. I used the momentum from that hill for all that it was worth.
I was thrilled when I checked my watch and saw how much of a negative split I had run. Of course that’s a lot easier when I start out jogging and end down a major hill, but it was nice to see that I do still have those 7:00 and 8:00 miles in me after running so slowly for the last month.
I collected my medal and water then headed to the gear check.
Gear check was kind of a disaster. The gear had been separated into trucks based on corral time. That meant that as everyone from the first corral finished, they all lined up at the same truck. Volunteers at the other trucks had nothing to do while one truck was completely swamped. Since it was in the 30s, people were anxious to get into their warm clothes. I appreciate the volunteers for their hard work, but I feel like things were poorly organized. Maybe gear should be separated based on last names to help distribute the crowd a little better?
It was around 7:45, meaning Dan was probably just about to start his marathon and Matt and Heather were about 15 minutes into the half. That meant I had a lot of time to kill. I went to the post-race area and got a bagel and muffin. I wandered around for a bit and heard some announcements. I was just in time to see the top five female winners receive their awards. Desi Linden and Cally Macumber from the Hansons-Brooks team had both placed.
Soon the wind started to bother me and I got really cold. My hands were freezing and I easily had an hour to kill before Matt and Heather finished, so I went back to the hotel room. I was thankful that it was a short walk from the finish area. I relaxed for a bit, had some more snacks, and put on warmer clothes. It was kind of cool that I could look out at the finish from our room.
Matt and I use the Find My Friends app, and it really comes in handy at races when we want to track each other. I followed Matt’s progress and headed out when I knew he was getting close.
Matt finished in an impressive 1:42. He hadn’t followed any structured training and didn’t do many longer runs yet still managed to finish with a great time. Races have been a struggle for the last couple years due to exercise-induced asthma, but it seems like Matt finally found the right doctor who got him on the right medicine. It was a relief that he didn’t have any breathing problems this time!
I was able to find Matt in line for the gear check, which was at least three times longer than it had been for me. Like I said before – kind of a disaster. He got some cool swag for finishing the half, including a finisher’s hat and fleece blanket.
Soon we found Heather, who had finished with a speedy 1:50 despite battling an achilles injury. We decided that we should try to catch Dan at the 16-mile mark of his race, but we didn’t know exactly when to look for him. We realized after a few minutes that we were too late and he had already passed. Matt and Heather still had to get their post-race food, where pizza was now an option for them. It wasn’t there for the 8K runners, but I suppose I didn’t really need it at 7:45 in the morning anyway! Matt and I headed back to the hotel room for a little bit because we still had an hour or so before Dan would finish. Dan texted Heather a couple times so we had a better estimate. When we looked at the tracking results we saw that he kept getting faster!
Matt went out to find him a little further up the course so he could run with him briefly. I went out to the hill so I could catch him coming into the finish.
Matt and I found Heather and Dan and congratulated him on finishing his first marathon. He finished in 3:40 and ran a negative split! That’s an awesome time and I still wish I could master the art of a negative split during a marathon. Of course he hurt, but he was in relatively good shape. We hung around the post-race area for a little bit before heading out for more substantial food.
It was a bit of a walk, but we made it to the Southern Railway Taphouse for a nice lunch. We went back to our hotels after that and relaxed for a while until we were ready for dinner. Rather than attempt to battle crowds downtown again, Matt was smart enough to suggest that we try the VCU area. Dan and Heather picked us up and we ended up at a small, laid-back place called 821 Cafe. We didn’t have to worry about any owner/customer fist-fights breaking out there! We parked just in time before an anti-Trump rally passed right in front of us. The VCU students had staged peaceful marches each of the three nights we had been in town.
When we got back to the hotel, I could barely keep my eyes open. I had only run five miles that day, but had walked seven on top of it. We’d had a great but long day.
We flew home on Sunday morning and talked about what a great trip we’d had. Despite my initial frustration that I couldn’t run the marathon, this turned out to be a perfect trip. We had a blast doing Bart Yasso’s shakeout run and seeing the sights of downtown Richmond, checking out a basketball game and VCU’s campus, hanging out with Dan and Heather, eating at a bunch of good restaurants, and taking in the whole experience of the race day. It’s nice to get away from home and see new places and pack so much fun into one long weekend.
Thanks for reading if you actually made it through this whole thing!