Sunday, November 17, 2013

2013 Richmond Marathon Review

2013 Richmond Marathon
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Richmond, Virginia
27th Marathon Completed
Runners: 4,798
Start Time: 8:00 am
Course: Good combo of flat & rolling hills, 598 ft gain
Weather: Foggy & 50 degrees, 3 mph wind, rain/mist on & off for most of the race
SWAG: Long sleeve tech t-shirt, stadium blanket
Race Organization: Good
Crowd Support: Sparse & rain soaked, but good
Volunteer Support: Fairly sparse, but good
Water Stops: Good
Food: Junk food stops & oranges on course, Papa Johns pizza at the end
Age: 44
Weight: 174
Health: Great, no issues
Conditioning: A little over race weight, but good
Finish Time: 3:10:39 New PR & Boston Qualifying Time
Average Pace: 7:17
Place: 177th/4,798 Overall     19th/401 in 40-44 AG

Summary:  Great race that I would highly recommend.  The city of Richmond is a great place to visit with a rich history.  The course is beautiful, and to date, maybe the best one I've ever ran.  It's the perfect combination of long flat stretches accompanied by rolling hills to vary the muscles you're using in your legs.

Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

Virginia Is For Lovers?  Hmm, maybe.  But I say Virginia is for RUNNERS!   Because on a rainy Saturday, on what would turn out to be one of my favorite courses I’ve ever raced, I ran the best marathon of my life.  2013 has been my fastest year of running yet with seven different PR’s and two Boston Qualifiers.  And my 3:10:39 marathon best at Richmond was a great way to cap an awesome year, and close out my “career” in the 40-44 Age Group Division.

On Thursday before the race, Michael and I flew to Richmond for a wonderful weekend getaway, wrapped around a race.  While we live in Kansas City, Michael actually works for a company based in Richmond.  So we spent the weekend together before I flew home on Sunday, and she stayed for a few meetings at her office.  As always we had a great time touring the city and acting like fools.  We really put the “Virginia Is For Lovers” state motto to the test with make-out pictures on the James River, on the steps of the State Capital, and in front of a cool mural of two astronauts getting’ it on.  When in Rome I guess.  We also spent Friday morning driving the course.  I used to drive the course all the time, but over the past several races had just tackled it on race day.  But we had time to kill and it was a beautiful day.

Richmond, Virginia is a beautiful East Coast or Southern city (I’m not sure of either) rich with American history.  Located on the banks of the James River, it was designated the Capital City of The Confederate States during the Civil War after Montgomery, Alabama became too hot, humid, and mosquito infested for Southern Dignitaries.  Richmond was also home to Tredegar Iron Works, the main supply of iron and artillery for Confederate forces during the war.  President Lincoln famously toured Tredegar with his son, Tad, the day after Union troops took control of the city in 1865.  Richmond’s prominent role in our country’s history is evident everywhere from the State Capital building designed by Thomas Jefferson, to the streets still lined with rows of homes built during the 19th century.

Writer Edgar Allan Poe also lived in Richmond for a while as a boy.  He was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy merchant in Richmond, after he was orphaned when his mother, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe, died.  Elizabeth is buried in the St. John’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Richmond.  He later attended the University of Richmond for a year before dropping out.  While Richmond influenced many of his writings, “The Raven” was actually penned during his time in New York and Philadelphia.
Downtown Richmond, Virginia - photo taken from the Robert E. Lee Bridge
St. John's Episcopal Church and cemetery, the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe's mother Elizabeth

Top: Old Richmond City Hall   Middle: Richmond State
Capital building   Bottom: Richmond Executive Mansion
The city also has one of the highest percentages of African Americans in the United States.  In 2012, of its 210,000 residents, about 50% were black, while only 44% were white.  Accordingly, the National Black Marathoners Association used the Richmond Marathon as their annual national gathering.  On Saturday, about 450 members took part in either the 8K, half, or full marathons.

One of the city’s more recent famous residents is Arthur Ashe.  Ashe was an American tennis legend who won the U.S. & Australian Opens, and is still the only black player to win a singles title at Wimbledon.  Before his death from AIDS related pneumonia in 1993, Ashe started the Arthur Ashe Institute for the Defeat of AIDS.  He was also a lifelong activist in the Civil Rights movement. 

On Thursday and Friday before the race, the Expo & Packet Pick Up was held at the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center.  It was pretty much the standard Race Expo, however it seemed to have much more event merchandise than most races.  I bought a cool “Virginia Is For Runners” t-shirt.  Surprisingly … Michael didn’t buy anything.  But the coolest part of the Expo was getting to meet blog-world superstar … MISS ZIPPY!!!  Awesome!!!  Miss Zippy is one of the first people I began reading several years ago, and Michael and I were excited to finally meet her in person.  We chatted about training and shared our goals for the race.  And of course, she was just as awesome in real life as she appears on her blog.  Incredibly nice.  Very humble.  And really cool!

Miss Zippy, Michael & me at Richmond
Some of the beautiful original architecture that lined the street along Monument Avenue
Tredegar Iron Works, the primary source of iron and ammunition for Confederate Troops during the Civil War
One of the original brick homes overlooking the James River along River Drive
Expo at the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center on Friday before the race 

2013 Richmond Marathon long sleeve orange tech t-shirt (left),
"Virginia Is For Runners" shirt that I bought at the Expo (right)
The Race
Like most runners, I’ve had some fueling issues over the years.  Eat too many carbs the days leading up to the race, and you feel bloated and heavy at the starting line.  Try to stay light and not eat, of course you crash before the race is finished.  Chicago was the latter for me.  I didn’t eat quite enough and ran of gas at mile 22.  So for this marathon I decided to take in a few more calories than usual.  I don’t really consume that many wheat products anymore, but on Thursday and Friday, I had quite a bit of bread, as well as a lot of steel cut oats.  Our hotel offered a great runner buffet the night before the race with chicken, salmon, potatoes, beans, and plenty of grains & veggies.  It was perfect.

About five weeks before Richmond, I'd ran the Chicago Marathon.  And even though I PR'd by about 5 minutes ... I felt like it should have been 10.  I'm not joking.  I ran a good race at Chicago, but I knew I was in a lot better shape than my finish time indicated.  To make up for it, I had targeted Richmond as my "redemption race", but it's been my experience that those rarely work out.  So I went to bed that night fairly relaxed, just planning on playing it by ear the next day.  I didn't stress about pace plans, or missing my alarm ... and I slept like a baby.  

The weather forecast the week leading up to the race, and even the day before predicted 0% chance of rain with partly cloudy skies, 50 degrees, and no wind.  They got three out of four correct.  But it literally rained or misted for almost the entire race.  And at the start of the two races before mine, it was literally coming down in buckets.  I felt really bad for those folks who started before me.  They were drenched from the outset, but it seemed to subside a little for the start of the marathon.

The view of Broad Street from room 713 as runners start their races in the pouring rain a half hour before the marathon
Michael and I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which was literally the front door of the starting line.  It doesn't always work out like that, but it was so nice to literally ride down the elevator, walk to the starting line about 50 feet away, and then run.  Magical!  This particular event featured three different races – an 8K, and half & full marathons, which all had staggered starts.  Michael was running the half marathon, so I watched from our 7th floor room window as she and the rest of the runners for each event started their races.   I was up next.
Beautiful rock formations in the bed of the James River at miles 8 & 9
The week leading up to the race I’d really experienced dead, lifeless legs.  I’d ran a near PR 5K just two weeks before, followed by an 18 miler, with 15 at marathon pace, the very next day.   I wouldn't really recommend that approach, but I felt like I needed one last quality long run before my marathon.  But frankly it had taken a lot out of me.  So standing at the starting line, I really had doubts.  Nothing hurt .. at all.  And I felt like I was in great shape.   But every time I’d ran over the past 10 days, there was just no response in my legs.

The gun sounded and it had stopped raining.  But about a quarter mile into the race, it started again.  Even though it was really foggy and cloudy, I had worn sunglasses.  Don’t ask me why, I just feel comfortable in them.  I really prefer the “shield down” approach so people can’t see in my eyes exactly how much pain I’m in I guess.  But when it started raining, they immediately fogged up.  So I ran the whole race with them sitting on top of my head.

I literally spent the first five miles of the race, which were flat as a pancake, trying to get my legs into “race mode”.  I felt fine, but I was working a little too hard to manage a 7:30 pace … when I’d planned on running most of the race around 7:00.  But even though it was raining on and off, and the sparse spectators who’d braved the elements were chilled with rain coats dripping a steady stream, I enjoyed the beautiful and unique course.  We passed row after row of colorful turn of century architecture, ran down historic tree-lined streets that Confederate troops had once called home, and made our way through Carytown and Virginia Common Wealth University.  We also spent a mile or so on Monument Avenue, a National Historic Landmark featuring several statues and monuments of Richmond sons and daughters.

2013 Richmond Marathon Elevation Chart - about 500 ft of elevation gain, a lot of flat stretches and rolling hills

Dodging puddles for most of the day (photo from 

Washington Statue at the Capital Building
Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue

It took until about mile seven for me to “feel like running a marathon today”.  I had stopped twice in the first few miles to pee, and I figured it cost me a little over a minute.  But at that point I really wasn’t that concerned with the clock.  I just wanted my legs to feel good and I still had serious doubts about a fast race.  But as we made our way along River Road, and began to get our first glimpse of the amazing James River, for the first time all day I started to “feel it” a little.  I was beginning to near my marathon pace and it didn’t feel like it was killing me.

The two mile stretch from eight to nine along the James River was amazing.  The fog hovered over the lazy river on our left with occasional ducks and Canadian Geese flying along the surface.  The incredible smooth gray rock formations rose out of the ripples like a path to the opposing bank.  On our right, Civil War era homes stood majestically on the wooded hill as if steadfastly on the lookout for enemy soldiers some 150 years later.  It was amazing.  Almost equally amazing was how my pace was starting to feel … it was coming to me fairly free and easy.  I settled into my 7:00ish pace at this point and really never looked back.

Rolling hills best describe the next three miles at 10, 11 and 12.  There were a couple of short steep inclines, but they were quickly followed by a nice decline for recovery.  The route at this point took us along Forest Hill Avenue, which was probably my least favorite section of the run.  The race officials and local law enforcement had traffic contained fairly well, but occasionally, cars got a little too close during this stretch.  

The final stretch straight down 5th Street to the finish line ... 150 ft of descent in the final half mile

Miles 13 through 15 were pretty much a long gradual downhill.  It really felt easy so I tried to make sure I didn't get out of control and ramp up to a speed that I couldn't maintain.  Also, I really focused on my form during the three mile pass.  Long downhills like this are a little deceptive.  While the feel easy as it relates to your breathing, they can take a lot of your legs, especially your lower quads.  I wanted to make sure I didn't regret this stretch later in the race.

In every review I read, and in talking with Miss Zippy before the race, miles 16-18 or so seemed to be the challenge of the race.  It was basically a long gradual 200 ft rise back across the James River on the Robert E. Lee Bridge.  According to experienced runners of the race, this is stretch would make or break your day.  I was thankful for the warning and resolved that it WAS NOT going to break me.  I knuckled down and really tried not to focus too much on pace, conserving energy on the climb.  And really, I didn’t struggle at all with the bridge, but I can certainly understand why folks find it difficult.

About 200 meters left in the race downhill toward Browns Island Park on the James River

A photo Michael took just before the finish line
... nice sunglasses Genius!!!
The only thing I struggled with on the bridge had nothing to do with the passageway over the James River, rather it was my right big toe.  It felt like something was sawing into the side of it.  It kinda hurt … and it was really annoying.  The rain had created an obstacle course of puddles that had soaked my shoes.  When I race in my blue Brooks Pure Flow shoes, I wear a piece of self-adhering moleskin on the ball of my foot for a little extra cushioning.  Apparently the wet conditions had broken the bond with my skin and the mole skin had slipped down to the bend in my big toe.  Every step I could feel it digging in.  And if it would have been a training run, I would have stopped and removed it.  But we’ve all been in those races where something was hurting and we just said to ourselves, “Power through … deal with it later!”  Which I did.  But it became a definite distraction for the remainder of the race.

While the water stops were perfectly adequate with water first and Gatorade second every two miles like clockwork, the thing that stood out to me were the little extras.  I took orange slices on three different occasions from helpful folks, got handed a wet wash cloth at miles 16 and 22 (I think), and had the opportunity to enjoy donuts and other junk food at several different junctures.  I passed on those, but it made me smile and took my mind off of my pace from time to time.

I always use mile 18 as a barometer of how I’m going to finish that day.  I knew I was running a strong race, but I really wasn’t tracking the time.  I was just letting it happen.  But I remember specifically thinking, “Man … I really don’t feel too bad right now!” as I passed the mile marker.  I knew I had a fairly strong final eight miles in me.

The finish corrals at the Richmond Marathon along the banks of the James River
At mile 20 I caught the 3:15 pace group.  I hadn’t really been consciously tracking them or even aware of where they were, but when I caught them I seemed to pass them with ease.  Don’t get me wrong, I was working at this point, but I felt like I could most likely hang with them if I had to and then sprint to the end to take a few seconds off of my PR.  But I only hung with them for about 200 meters.  They were just going too slow for the pace I'd committed to on Saturday.  So I began to rev back up a little to the 7:00's I had been logging, and fully took the plunge.  I was going for it ... all in!

Foggy and rainy conditions for the runners and spectators at Richmond
The next two miles were my fastest and strongest all day.  Easily passing the 3:15 pace group had really given me an energy boost, but I was cautious of controlling it as  much as possible and really kept an eye on my pace.  At mile 21 we entered a beautiful tree-lined neighborhood called Bellevue.  You could tell we'd missed the peak of Fall by about two weeks, because while most the trees still exhibited quickly fading autumn colors, about half of their leaves were resting on the wet grass.

Finish line area at Richmond with supporters dodging rain drops for most of the day

Nice stadium blanket for half and full marathon finishers

I’m typically really strong in marathons until mile 22.  That’s my “mental mile”.   If I’m gonna break down in a race, it’s typically right there.  It happened only five weeks prior in the Chicago Marathon and I was hyper-aware of it at Richmond.  As I passed mile 22 and approached 23, I kept telling myself, “Slow down … focus … don’t burn out … focus … just manage it!”  And for the first time in several races, that’s exactly what I did.  I made it to mile 23 with only a 5K to go with not much trouble at all.  My legs still felt really strong, but my stomach felt like a huge gas ball that needed to explode.  I didn’t need to stop at the facilities or anything like that, it was just that feeling you get in a race with a lot of pressure that needed to be relieved.  It felt like I needed to pass wind for about 3 minutes straight.  Ha - that’s the only way I can describe it.

For the entire race, I was completely unaware of my time.  My pace had been strong and I knew I was ahead of the 3:15ers, but at mile 25 I finally changed the screen on my Garmin and glanced at my cumulative time.  It was 2:55!!!  I cleared the cobwebs and fog in my exhausted mind just long enough to do a little race course arithmetic.  If my calculations were correct … if I ran the last two miles at a 7:30 pace … I would come in around 3:10 … FREAKING 3:10!!!  And that really locked me in.  I was really doing it.  I was really running FREAKING 3:10!!!

At mile 25 I really began to fight speeding up too much.  I had to focus on controlling the pace and not getting too excited in the midst of starting to fade a little.  I just tried to keep my mind locked into making it to 25.5.  That’s where the last half mile of the course elevation dropped like a rock … literally.  It was a whopping 150 ft downhill to the finish line at Browns Island Park that some marathon reports referred to as “almost too much of an decline”.  I thought if nothing else, I could fall down the steep river embankment and tumble across the timing mat.

Long lines to pick up gear at the bag drop trucks

But when I made the final turn onto 5th Street, the celebration began.  Well not literally, I still had a little work to do.  But I knew I was shattering my PR that I set only a few weeks earlier and it was an all out sprint to the finish.  My pace over the last few tenths of a mile was near my 5K pace and I remember my feet pounding the ground down the sharp decline.  I knew it was beating the heck out of my tired legs, but I didn’t care … I was making my own personal history today!   And as I flew through the finish corral, past the largest crowd of cheering spectators I had seen all day, I reached down and tapped my Garmin as I crossed the finish line.  3:10:39!!!!   I had ran a FREAKING 3:10 MARATHON!!! WOOOOHOOOO!!!

I quickly found Michael, who was watching for me near the finish.  She said she’d lost track of me on the inaccurate marathon tracking, but started screaming her lungs out when she looked up and saw me coming down the hill at 3:10.  And I gotta tell ya, having a hot gal screaming for you still feels really good after all these years – ha.  She hugged my stinky, rain and sweat soaked body and told me she was proud of me.  That was awesome!  Still beaming from my race, we ran into a young lady who stopped us and said “Hey, do you guys blog?  Are you that couple who blogs?”  We laughed and said “Yes”, and visited with her for a few minutes.  Here name was Kam and she’d read my Chicago review, and left a comment about running the Richmond Marathon.  It was really random running into her – but really cool!

After that, we waited in the long gear check line to retrieve my gear bag.   That was only minor negative about the race organization – it just seemed like it took a little longer than it should’ve to retrieve your stuff.  But they were doing the best they could, and it was a minor inconvenience.  My adrenaline was still pumping so I wasn’t that tired as I stood and waited, but my toe was killing me.  After I got my bag, I found a chair and took off my sock.  There was a blood blister that stood up off the surface about a quarter inch and was about the size of a quarter.  Awesome.  Guess that’s what was hurting so bad.  When I saw the size of the blister, I was really proud that I’d ran though it and didn’t use it as an excuse, but it friggin’ hurt.

The only marathon "injury" I can ever remember ...  it looks a lot worse than it was, but definitely a distraction
Post Race
The only bad thing about a half-mile downhill to the finish line … is walking back up it for five blocks after the race.  That feels fairly below average on tired marathon legs.  There were apparently shuttle services available back to the hotel, but I thought it would do me some good to walk.  I wish I would've opted for the shuttle.

Everything that comes down, must go up???  The half mile walk straight uphill back to the hotel after the race.
Later that night for our post-race meal/celebration, Michael and I ate a big greasy burger, French fries, and milkshake at Carytown Burgers & Fries, the top burger joint in Richmond.  The restaurant is located in one of the oldest buildings in Richmond, an 1840's Tollhouse that has been restored over the years, but still has the original wood floors upstairs.  It was a really cool authentic Richmond hangout with the perfect meal for celebrating a great run!

Celebration dinner at Carytown Burgers & Fries ... housed in one of Richmond's oldest buildings, an 1840's Tollhouse

Some of the original 19th Century buildings on Cary Street

Later that night, while we were sound asleep at 4:45 am, the fire alarms in the hotel went off.  We had to evacuate the building in the middle of the night … which is always awesome because you’re typically not very tired after running a marathon only a few hours before.  Sarcasm.  Ironically enough, it was the second time I’d been evacuated by a fire alarm in the dead of night after a marathon.  The first was at The Top of Utah a few years ago.  One of the staff told a guest as we were making our way back to the elevator that it was someone smoking in a room.  I must not have been a big deal because the four of the firemen in one of the trucks didn’t even get out.  They were like, “Where’s the fire?”

Hotel evacuation at 4:45 am ... which means down seven flights of stairs in the middle of the night after a marathon. Awesome.

On Sunday morning I planted my final Virginia kiss on Michael and hopped on a plane back to KC.  My legs got really stiff after the three hour flight, but I was still smiling from ear to ear as I thought about  my day.  I turn 45 in exactly one month, and it was important to me to run one last solid race as a 44 year old.  Not only did I run a solid race, but I ran faster than ever before.  It was a great feeling, and a great marathon.  "Virginia is for lovers" … maybe … but it’s most definitely for this runner!
… be great today!


  1. Truly inspired. You are an amazing runner.

    I really hope to see you here in Boston in 2015.

  2. Making your own personal history - I love that! Congratulations again.

  3. You ran such a strong race and really put all your experience racing into this one - smart pacing, smart planning, fabulous finish. Such an exciting recap to read!
    You HAVE to do Boston now.

  4. AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    congrats on your PR!!!
    way to end the year of races before moving up age divisions!!!!
    and holy wow,great way pushing through that blister!!!
    I had registered for this race,as I live only 45 min away from Richmond,but was unable to make it--I have heard from other runners it is an awesome course!

    and having lived in VA for over 2yrs now,YES,this state is for RUNNERS!
    again,congrats on your race,i was sooo happyto read it went so well!!!

  5. This was freaking awesome!! WTG on such a great race, PB, BQ and any other acronyms that you can think of. You truly are an inspiration.

    And should I say, Michael and you look freaking cute lovey dovey and all that.

  6. Awesome run, well done! That is a super time! What a great report! Thanks for sharing all of this. Love the photos! Meeting Miss Zippy! I would have to do a full blog friend tour of the US one day.

  7. Well done, Jim! Congrats to you on a new PR!!!!!! :-)
    Susan SRMS
    BTW...looking forward to "running" into to you and Michael in 2014. I'm in St. Louis, so our paths will (hopefully) cross soon!!!!

  8. Wow, Jim, what an exciting race report! I'm so happy for you--it was truly redemption (not that any of the rest of us thought there was anything shabby in your Chicago time....) Congratulations!

    My sister-in-law was running the half--I'll have to ask her about that rain.

  9. You absolutely crushed it! Now, get out of my age group!

  10. Look at you! This makes me so happy especially after your post saying that you weren't so confident in your legs! You're such a badass :)

  11. Hell to the freaking yeah!!!!! Major stoke times a million for you. Dang that is just so freaking sweet!!

    Congratulations Jim! So well deserved and I am so not surprised at all but I am so incredibly happy for you.

  12. Congrats on the 3:10! Sounds like you ran a perfect race. Wow that blister is gigantic! lol on the fire alarm wake up call

  13. Sorry to be that creepy blog stalker girl! I was too excited to meet two of the people I read from :) Take care and CONGRATS !!

  14. Great post! Great pictures! Especially the pre race ones of you and Michael. And congrats again. Your enthusiasm for this race clearly shows!

  15. Congratulations, and you kick ass! Thanks for the awesome race recap. I hope that I can shift like you some day man. You truly inpire me with your racing and going going. Thanks. Take care.

  16. This is so cool. I have family in Richmond, so this would be a great destination race for me, and it sounds beautiful.

    Isn't it funny how not feeling it can lead to a huge PR? One more reason to not necessarily listen to your body. :)

    Huge congratulations! I can just imagine the joy you felt realizing your time and crushing that finish.

  17. Killer race! I found your blog while looking for Richmond marathon recaps. I'm heading to the capital this weekend for a big PR quest. Enjoyed reading the details and making a big mental note to crash and burn in the 15-18 stretch that's uphill.


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