Race Report: Richmond Half Marathon

When I’m 95 and still running, I hope I can still experience “firsts”. I still have many to go, and I crossed off two more (one intentionally, one not) with this race, which was in Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday.

Those firsts were: 1) pace a friend through her first half-marathon; 2) run a race in driving rain without a hat on. I wear glasses, if that seems like no big deal.

I’ll start with 2): I had no idea it was even supposed to be cloudy until I packed for the weekend on Thursday night, and when Friday progressed to show a Saturday morning forecast of 45 degrees and 60% chance of rain at 6am, I got nervous and irritated. Elite racers will tell you that these are ideal conditions because they mean you won’t overheat and won’t have the sun beating down on you, but they are not to be taken seriously because they a) don’t wear glasses and b) run fast enough that any rain that might fall on them either runs right off or dries with the wind as they fly on through the air. Non-elite racers like me suddenly have to wonder if we’ll be able to see, much less think about comfort. Yes, wearing a hat can mitigate the rain somewhat, but rain falls at an angle when you’re moving through it faster than a walk, and it tends to find its way onto your lenses anyway. I’ve come to terms with most of the things associated with running in the rain for long distances, but this is the one I can’t get past; if I can’t see, I have problems.

So.

When it started raining – no, pouring – no, gullywashering and flooding – at 6:30am Saturday, with a race start time of 7:30am, I started to get even more nervous and irritated. I checked the radar to see that it would clear by the start time, but I still had to get to the start line to meet Friend, and everyone else in Saint’s house was fast asleep (I told them all I’d walk the 1.75 miles to the start line to meet Friend, and they took me seriously). At 6:55 I hit the panic button and woke up Saint, and had him drive me there, and of course, by the time we arrived and I met Friend, the deluge had slowed to a misty nothing. I kept my hat with me just in case, but told Saint I was likely to hand it off to him when he saw me just past mile 2.

And that’s exactly what I did. As we started the race, I warmed up as I always do, and my head got quite warm, and my glasses – heretofore clear of all rain drops – started fogging up. When we passed Saint and his parents, I tore off my hat and handed it to him, and he looked at me with a slightly confused expression, but shrugged and took it anyway; saying he’d see me at the finish. Ten steps later, I understood the look on his face: it began cats-and-dogs pouring again, and within a minute I was more or less completely unable to see where I was going. Friend wears glasses too, and didn’t have a hat, so she was already visually impaired…

What can you do but laugh? So we did, and relaxed, and settled into the realization that we were going to spend some time simply following the people in front of us.

And that’s exactly what we did. My goals for this race going in had been twofold: slow Friend down so she didn’t burn out in the first few miles, and finish strong and uninjured. Friend wanted to finish between 2:10-2:15, so I forced us to hold to what I thought was about an 11:00/mile pace for the first 10k. We managed a 10:42/mile pace for that first 10k, so perhaps we got caught up in passing people to get clear of bottlenecks, or maybe we were feeling the pre-race euphoria a little. I actually thought we’d gone out too slow, and that we were really going to have to bust ass to make 2:10, so I started edging us towards a faster pace around mile 8. Friend was still with me but lagging behind a tiny bit (maybe a half step), but she said she felt fine, so I pushed us a bit faster through miles 9-11. At mile 11 she started dropping back a little – maybe two steps – and I realized that we could have, maybe should have gone out even slower, because she wasn’t going to have the finishing kick left in her that I do – but, this is her first half, for crying out loud, whereas this is number 5 for me and I’ve had plenty of experience to teach me how to conserve. She’ll get there, too, in a matter of time. Anyway, she waved me on when we made our final turn because I think she could sense that I wanted to finish strong, so I went ahead, finishing ahead of her by about 10 seconds. I felt a leeeetle  bit bad that we hadn’t crossed the finish line together, though she did thank me profusely for holding her back in the first half of the race and for pushing her gradually in the second half. Physically, she came out fine (says she), and as far as I can tell she had the “holy crap I just ran a half-marathon” experience instead of the “I am never doing one of these again” experience.  had a great time, so I hope that she catches the bug as much as I did after my first half.

We finished in 2:14, so just inside her time goal, and that’s actually my second-fastest half time ever, so that’s cool. If I’d been on my own and actually racing it, I’d have pushed myself a bit more in the last half of the race, though coming off a marathon I’m still wary of attempting any PRs just yet. As it was, we covered the last 6.9 miles in 1:08, which is a 9:59/mile pace, so I’m getting better at this whole running-negative-splits-by-feel thing. I felt like I could have run another half when I finished, which means I’m recovering properly and doing well to maintain a 30-mile/week base – or, that I have delusions of grandeur induced by endorphins. Your call. 🙂

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT YOU, you say. What about the COURSE??

I loved the course, not just because it’s flat (yay Richmond!) and familiar (there was only one 1.5-mile segment I’d never run before, that went through a park, but I’ve been in other parts of the park before so I knew what to expect) and part of one of my favorite days in Richmond (this was the third year in a row I’ve run a race associated with this day, and the crowds never cease to amaze me with their support). There were a couple of long stretches down streets for a couple of miles, and a couple of bottlenecks in the park and on more narrow streets, but that will happen with any race. The crowd support is unparalleled, and there’s enough uphill and downhill to make it an interesting run. I’m still not a huge fan of the steep downhill finish, but I sort of let gravity do its thing this time and just let it carry me down as fast as my legs would let me go, and my quads were a leeeetle bit sore yesterday but fine today. (My knees, too, were fine.) Double bonus: we finished in time to get free pizza at the finish festival AND get free coffee from the McDonald’s truck that was there – both were things that had run out by the time I finished the marathon last year, which I hold against no one because I took my sweet time finishing that. ALSO, we got fleecy blankets at the finish line, which were perfectly wonderful in the cool rain after we were done. Saint took it since I already had one from my March half (they’re sponsored by the same company), and I was fine with that, since he’d earned it by standing outside in the rain for multiple hours dressed in an orange sweatshirt that he decorated to be Tony the Tiger and holding up a sign that said “YOU’RE GRRRREAT!”. (He was a hit with the marathoners, apparently, and as we were walking back to his parents’ house after I finished he got a lot of thumbs-ups and picture requests!)

So, would I run this race again? Abso-freaking-lutely, though maybe not next year (I’m thinking right now of taking the fall off from a long-distance race and sharpening my volunteer skills). Would I recommend this race for other runners? Abso-freaking-lutely, for anyone running their first or fifteenth. Have I bored you to death? Abso-freaking-

– wait, no, never mind. 🙂 I’ll end there; Boston is this weekend so I’m looking forward to trying to squeeze in some runs there. Have a good week!

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