Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Richmond Half Marathon

I didn't want to go to Richmond. But that's another story for another day.

I used to want to go to Richmond. In fact, last year, the day after Tracy and I trekked to Richmond to support our friends as they chased down marathon and half marathon goals, we both registered for the 2016 event—so taken I was by the awesomeness of this event's production and attendance and course. It was just two weeks after I'd run my first marathon, and having conquered what I still believe to be my ultimate distance goal, 26.2 miles, I set my sights on getting fast in 2016.

And then 2016 came. And while I did run fast in my first two races, taking home back-to-back personal records at Cherry Blossom and the New Jersey Half Marathon, I lost everything after that. Anyway, long story short, it was just a handful of weeks into my Richmond Half training plan, somewhere in September, that I completely let go of what had once been my goal—to run it in less than two hours.
The Lead-Up

I arrived in Richmond instead knowing that I had a team behind, ahead of, and beside me that would propel me to the finish, come hell or high water, despite my pathetic lack of training in the most important weeks leading up to race day. I arrived knowing that making it to the city at all was half my battle this year, and hoping I wouldn't run my worst half marathon ever, but knowing ultimately that if I fell apart on the course, I had no one but myself to blame. I knew it could be a terrible day, but I held out hope that my tradition of making it from start to finish on grit and determination alone would hold.

The Race Day

I couldn't have asked for better weather. It was cold at the start for sure, but I do prefer to run with a slight chill on me. But it was sunny and clear, the wind wasn't nearly as bad as they had predicted, and after a cold start it warmed up to a perfect fall morning. The fall foliage was the perfect backdrop too—oh, how much I love those flame-colored trees!

Weather aside, race morning arrangements worked out really nicely. David and I were a few doors down from Tracy and Kristen, and Lisa and Brian were a floor up. The latter pair had to head to the start line early to prep Brian's training group, so David ferried Kristen, Tracy, and me to the start line where we quickly met with Lisa and Brian before lining up in our respective corrals.

The Race Course

One of the best courses I've ever run, in a nutshell. I've been hearing for over a year how Richmond is a fast course and this is "America's friendliest marathon," and though I haven't run them all, I can definitely vouch for that. We ran through the city of Richmond, through a couple of quaint suburban neighborhoods, and through a park before being spit back out into the city for the final downhill to the finish. There were a few hills along the way, including an overpass, but I do enjoy running hills (as long as they relent eventually, which they did here) and this race gave us the HUGE benefit of a net downhill. In fact, this course finishes on a downhill so obvious, you have to be careful not to lean too far forward as you pedal down it!

My Race

Like I said, I was half-expecting to fall apart on this course. But I knew what I had going for me: David waiting at the finish (the first time he'd ever see me cross a start or finish line), Brian running for a half marathon PR under 1:15 ahead of me (he's just super inspiring to run near), Kristen and Tracy at the start line with me, and Lisa a few corrals behind me. The team was out and ready that morning. Tracy and I decided again to run side by side the whole way, making this race number four for us to run at least some portion of together.

Kristen, Tracy, and I stepped over the mat together at 7:34 a.m., with the agreement that we'd stay together as long as it made sense. Tracy asked me what I was thinking of for pace, and I think I said something like "Let's see how 9:30/mile feels?" and then we both did some quick math to calculate what that total time would be. I forgot about it and decided I would like to see those numbers, but would rather run this race on feel.

Within the first 100 yards I said hello and goodbye to David on the sidelines and then started to settle in. The first few miles are slightly downhill and we coasted. I remember mile 1 chiming much earlier than I thought it would, and barely glancing at my watch to see the pace (9:19). And honestly? Most of the rest of the race went just like that.
 Kristen parted ways with us around 3.5 miles in, and Tracy and I kept going as the miles came in hovering usually around 9:25 or so. Some were slower, some were faster, and I didn't take note of many of them at all. I just kept trying to put the same amount of effort in, recenter my mind onto my breathing when necessary, powering up hills and coasting down them. I had a few pains pop up here and there, the tell-tale sign of undertraining for a race, but luckily there was nothing so severe or long-lasting that I couldn't power through it. I walked a water stop somewhere around 6.5 I think, but other than that kept moving. At the top of a hill that I think was around mile 8, I told Tracy I was going to just keep this up until mile 10, see where we were then pace-wise, and decide at that point whether I wanted to phone it in or calculate and make an effort for something like 2:10 or better. My PR at this point in the game was from May 1's NJ Half, 2:06:13.

After mile 10 chimed, I wanted to take a quick walk to stretch out my hips and text David an update, which I did while Tracy made a pit-stop. This was good because it gave me a kind of time constraint: as soon as she was back by my side, I was back to running. I'd been worried that if I let myself walk a bit after mile 10, this would turn into a walk/run 5k to the finish. But my total time at this point was just below 1:36, and I remembered my Cherry Blossom 10-miler total time was around that too. I was doing well.

Miles 10 and 11 were a little challenging because my legs were just so tired, but I had texted David to look for me in less than 30 minutes. What's 30 minutes after an hour and a half? That rationale kept me going, and then somewhere in mile 11 the following conversation happened:
Tracy: "Do you want to PR today?"
Me: "Umm, I dunno..." (Thinking about math wasn't working for me at that moment, and I didn't know the numbers I'd need to make that happen.)
Tracy: "Can you run two 10-minute miles?"
Me: "Yes."
Tracy: "That's all you need to do to make that happen?"

I think I replied with "really?!" because honestly, 10-minute mile is my baseline right now. If I can't run a 10-minute mile, I better be either a) injured or b) in the middle of a marathon. I trust Tracy's math, knew there was a big downhill waiting for me, and knew a PR was in the bag.
Mile 13 chimed at 8:39 as we flew down the hill. I saw David on the right and thankfully he saw me too, and the next thing I knew I was leaping over the timing mat, stopping my watch, and unbelievably seeing a 3-minute PR. I hugged and thanked Tracy, my personal pacer and race day guru, we got our medals and FLEECE BLANKETS (best finisher swag ever), and then I literally almost threw up. Fun visual, huh? I didn't; I never have from running, and I don't know why that happened, but getting away from the crowd and some deep breathing leveled me out after a minute or so.
Anyway. David came down the hill for us then and I was so, SO happy to see him. I've never had a significant otter at my finish line before, and he knew what this race was for me mentally and emotionally, so him scooping me up was just the icing on the cake. We took a few photos, tried to get back up the hill in time to see Kristen finish and failed, caught her at the finish and then stayed there to see Lisa come out of the chute a few minutes later. Kristen hit her goals, Lisa and Brian PRed, and this team went home winners.
"You guys are so short." – Kristen

Watch: 13.2 miles, 2:03:22 (9:21 pace)
Chip: 13.1 miles, 2:03:21 (9:24 pace)

That's three minutes off the PR I set back in May, on little training nonetheless. I owe a TON to Tracy and the Richmond course, of course. This may not have been my sub-2 half marathon, but I know now that it was never supposed to be. Not after what this year has looked like, and not after everything I've been through. It was my back to business race, and my fastest half marathon to date, out of the five I've run. But most importantly, this race gave me back what I've been missing—what I was worried I'd lost forever: My love of running. My exhilaration over finish lines. The pride I know I can feel when I do something I said I would do.
Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Comments

  1. Huge congratulations to you - sounds like this was a real big win mentally for you as well as with the PR and yay for David and Tracey being there to see you do it and help too! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

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  2. Reading this made me so happy! Even though I was right there, it's really interesting to hear the story from your perspective. Huge congratulations again! I'm so proud of you for pulling that off and honored to have been a part of it in any way. I'm so happy it was exactly the race that you heeeded. Bring on the next one.

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  3. bahahahaha that title! and the you're so short caption.
    seriously, reading this made me so happy. i am so happy for you, especially because it gave you back the good feels with running. i am so happy it was exactly what you needed. i am 100% sure your next one will be a sub 2. congrats again!!

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  4. I don't like to move but I like race recaps like this. Congratulations on your time! You make running sound like fun :)

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  5. Congrats on your PR and on all the positive feelings about your race. So cute to have a significant other at the end cheering you on (and the pics at the end are ADORABLE and I'm SO happy for you!) So great that you had such a wonderful and supportive running buddy too. The fleece blankets are such a great idea for the finish line!!

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  6. I've felt this way about all the runs I've done this fall, including Disneyland. I just wanted it to be done and I didn't train well enough (due to an injury) and just uuuugghh.. That said, I feel like now that my injury is healed enough for me to run again, I'm getting back in the swing of things. Running Bestie said she was strongly considering running a marathon and at first I told her that I'd cheer her on from the side and at the finish line. Then, it came back up recently and I told her I'd be willing to run a half while she runs a marathon and then we could still run "together" but I would be waiting for her at the finish line. 13.1 miles is really too far for these achy pieces to go, so there's no way I'd be able to pull out 26.2. This woman knows her limits.

    I mention all that because Richmond Marathon was actually one of the contenders I suggested for her marathon. My criteria was runs that aren't too hilly, are on a paved surface, and have multiple races (so a marathon and half). I considered only doing a 10k, but that seems lazy when you have a friend running a marathon.

    Congrats on the unexpected PR!

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  7. As you know, I am always impressed with your running. Not something I plan to ever do but it still impresses me. And I'm glad you all were able to do it together!

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  8. Sometimes just getting somewhere is the hardest part-- though I don't know if that's exactly the case when it comes to running a long distance race, haha. So glad you had an amazing race-- the course sounds amazing & I'm sure it was so awesome to have David there for your first finish! Congratulations on your amazing PR and being able to kick it into full gear knowing how close you were to it at the last few miles with Tracy.

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  9. love this; and the fact that you met up with Kristen and Tracy! it makes it so much better when you have people to run with and push you to keep going.

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  10. Great outcome & the day looked just perfect! Loved the last four photos :)

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  11. gaaaah this makes me SO happy!!! I am so proud of you. PRs are the best. I need get a new half PR, me thinks. Can I get a peek at those races you scheduled already?? :) You and your boy toy are the cutest. I totally felt the same way about my marathon (except, of course, I was stoked just to have completed one), but it came after such a long running break that I worried I'd lost my love of racing. It always comes back, doesn't it? LOVE YOU!

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