Richmond Marathon race recap – Part 1

Check me out —

Mom of four, the Internet’s last remaining Mommy Blogger, and now you can add *marathon finisher* to my resume.

Those smiles are giant fakes. In fact, this bent-over, wilted photo is much more accurate:

In short, the Richmond Marathon wasn’t at all what I expected. And, at the risk of sounding dramatic (who, ME!!??!??!) I’m still sort of processing it. So why not process the best way I know how — by tapping out a 18-part miniseries.

I’ll start this tale at the beginning — the start line — which is not actually the beginning but close to the end, because marathons begin months and hundreds of miles before the start line. I won’t continue to harp on the training, but it’s important that you know I’ve been waking up really early to run for like six months, and I despise waking up early.

In those months when I was diligently running a LOT of miles, I also consumed a lot of content about marathons. Of everything I learned, one thing really resonated — treat race day like a celebration.

I LOVED this concept. After months and months of sweat, chafing, and having to figure out three hours of childcare every Saturday morning for my long run, the race isn’t a final exam. Instead, it’s a victory lap in celebration of all you accomplished to get to that point. I loved that mentality, and I took it with me on race day.

On race morning, I felt an immense sense of gratitude. It felt surreal that I was about to run a marathon. Tom drove Cabell and me to the start, and when I got out of the car, Tom gave me a hug. Standing there on the sidewalk, I was finally able to release the anxiety of pre-race logistics — I felt an intense wave of emotion and a lump in my throat.

I did it. I made it.

I was about to run a marathon.

For this race, getting to the start line was race goal number one for Cabell and me, but a close second was to have a great experience. Through all our miles of running, Cabell and I had talked and over-talked about race day. Early in training, we considered time goals, then we unanimously decided that for our first marathon we just wanted to complete it and have a good experience. Considering all of the logistics required to juggle training AND six kids’ sports schedules, bus stops, and immune systems between the two of us, a time goal was too stressful. The main thing, we agreed, was to train well and finish the race feeling as good as possible.

Keeping that in mind, you’ll understand why what happens next was a little, um, disappointing.

Ok, back to the starting line.

Let’s meet starting line Cabell and Amanda, shall we? Starting line Cabell and Amanda were well-trained, well-tapered, well-rested, and pretty relaxed. And, despite significant exposure to the flu, neither of us had the flu. Starting line Cabell and Amanda had a race plan. They had done everything right.

For some reason it’s important to me to say all that. A lot of people have bad race experiences because of bad planning or a hiccup in training. But we hadn’t done all that! We’d put in significant time and energy controlling for the variables. WE HAD A PLAN!

I’d heard about the warm forecast, and I’d seen how tough the warm NYC marathon had been a few weeks earlier, but I wasn’t really worried. Generally, I don’t really mind running in the heat, but mostly I wasn’t worried because we had a plan. Fuel every 4 miles, fluids and electrolytes at every water stop, and a conservative pace.

Plus — and this is the big one — it wasn’t that hot.

70 something degrees? HAH! I’ve seen school delayed in Richmond on 70 degree days. Richmonders wear scarves and Uggs when it’s 70 degrees. 70 degrees would not be a problem.

The heat was, perhaps, the one variable I didn’t really take seriously.

Where were we? Oh yeah, THE START LINE. I haven’t rambled like this in a blog post since my birth stories

Cabell and I milled around, went to the bathroom, chatted about our first gel, then watched the 8k and the half start before lining up in our corral. When the gun went off, I excitedly turned to Cabell, “We’re doing it! We’re running a marathon!”

That’s the energy I had starting the race. I was running a marathon! Can you believe it!? 

I was doing this thing that I’d been scared of doing for something like 25 years.

The first few miles were awesome. In fact, the first half of the race was awesome. The first half was so different than the second half that it doesn’t even seem like the same race, or even the same sport.  I spent the first few miles high-fiving, fist-bumping, and making jokes to spectators. At mile 4 we started seeing friends and family, which hyped me up even more.

Early on I had the first itty-bitty hint that the race wasn’t going exactly as planned. Around mile 3 (VERY EARLY IN THE RACE) I took a gel earlier than I thought. I just sort of felt like I needed something. A little caffeine, a little energy, a little pick-me-up. Not a big deal, for sure, but if you’re burning through your rations before the race even really gets going, the  ration math doesn’t really work out.

The next few miles ticked off, and I cannot emphasize this enough — I was having a great time. I told Cabell that I was at my most extrovert and since I had so obviously checked the”have a good time” goal, I set my sights on a new goal, “get at least one person to laugh at a joke.” This is much, much harder than you might think, but no matter how much I embarrassed Cabell, I was undeterred!

Around mile 7 our marathon-training friend Joanna jumped in to run with us. Even though she had told us she was going to do this and we had even planned with her the best place to join, I completely forgot. So when she was suddenly running with us, I reacted like it was my very own personal surprise party. “JOANNA!!! HEY! OH MY GOSH I’M SO HAPPY YOU’RE HERE!!!”

In case you don’t believe me, or you think I’m exaggerating, here’s a video my dearest friend Jorie took at mile 8. I WAS SO HAPPY! (You can contrast this with the video Steve Krieger took at mile 22.)

If you listen closely, after I high-five Jorie’s husband, I yell, “Can you believe it!? Can you believe I’m running a marathon?” And he turns and says, “YES I CAN!”

It was awesome. If we had ended the race right there it would have been a great day.

But, dear reader, we did not end the race right there.

Because Joanna is a wonderful, generous friend, she ran with us from about mile 7 to mile 11. This completely distracted me from what was happening — it was getting hot. All around us people were taking walk breaks and shedding clothes, but I didn’t notice because I had a friend!

This is Cabell, Joanna (mostly hidden by Cabell), and me running somewhere between miles 10 and 11.

Just before mile 11 a lot happened. We took a quick bathroom break, Joanna hopped off the course, and we turned off of the shady, flat cocoon of Riverside Drive and onto Forest Hill Avenue. Suddenly it was hot, sunny, and up hill. This constellation of circumstances came together and, here I have no choice but to use the marathon cliche — we hit a brick wall. I’m not talking about the storied “wall” marathoners hit late in the race. No, this wall was different. It was a wall of sun and heat, and after we hit it…or it hit us…the bricks from the wall got tied to our feet and we were forced to drag them the rest of the way.

All of this happened SO FAST that it was honestly a bit disorienting. We felt good, then we didn’t.

Cabell and I decided to take a quick walk break to sort of gather ourselves and then start again. Neither of us had any idea what was happening. Why did we feel so bad? What was going on? We were at MILE ELEVEN. To put this in perspective, we’d been running more than 11 miles twice a week for months. An eleven mile run in a marathon training plan is a BREAK. Eleven miles is like, do I even need a pony tail? BRB! This will be over so fast I’ll just wear my jeans and flip flops! But on race day, when all of our training was supposed to pay off, eleven miles was all I had.

A guy running near us overheard us talking and said a colorful version of, “This is awful. I was planning to run a 7:45 pace and this heat is miserable. I’m walking it in.”

Strangely, that gave us a little boost. There was odd comfort in knowing that it wasn’t just us; that brick wall hit everyone and we were all communally dragging bricks to the finish line.

Cabell’s friend took this video somewhere between miles 12 and 15. What sticks out to me isn’t just how little energy I have, but look at everyone around us! So, so, so many people walking! 

After mile 11, every mile was a struggle. We passed a constant stream of people walking, on the ground stretching or foam rolling. We saw one man weeping as he ran. I say all that just to set the tone of the next 15 miles. In all my years of running, I’ve never seen anything like the second half of this marathon.

We started running again, and we couldn’t get away from the heat. There were no leaves on the trees, not a cloud in the sky, so our only reprieve from the sun was occasional shade from buildings.

Have I mentioned it was hot? It was hot. Like, so so so hot. 70-something turned out to be 78 and high humidity. The arm sleeves I bought in case the race was chilly remained at home in my dresser where they were enjoying a nice brunch. Meanwhile, I ditched my tank top and sweated so much my race bib started to pill.

It was so hot that Cabell saw a race volunteer handing out wet towels and when she tried to grab it she found out wasn’t a race volunteer at all but a man waiting to hand a towel to his wife. That’s how hot it was. It was hallucinating-wet-towel weather.

I don’t want to bemoan this too much (who am I kidding, YES I DO! It’s all I want to talk about!), but know that the heat never relented. We never got one measly cool breeze. From mile 11 on, it affected every step. You people who run races like Badwater? I trained for this marathon in the swampy Richmond summer, and I genuinely can’t imagine.

Around mile 13 we got salt tabs from one of our MTT coaches, Annie, and that’s when we decided to run water stop to water stop, and take in as much salt and extra fuel as much as possible. I’d been drinking a cup of water at each stop, but starting mile 13 I had a cup of water, a cup on Nuun with a packet of salt, followed by another cup of water.

I think that if we hadn’t started that, I might not have finished the race.

– – – – –

Ah! How’s that for a cliff-hanger?

Stay tuned for part 2! Do I just sit on the curb at mile 13 and call an Uber? Or do I have a rush of adrenaline and surge to the finish line in record time? Find our in part 2, coming to you at a dogged, but unwaveringly determined. Just like my marathon pace.


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