The Mister and I set out at 10AM for Richmond. We made it to town around 7:00PM and immediately headed for the race expo. I picked up my number and the whole thing started to feel surreal. I had trained and I was ready but now I really had to do this! We browsed a little bit at the fitness expo and I snagged a PaceTat (shown here on me) for my goal finish time of 3:55. I was super happy about this because I tried to order one online but they didn’t make offer one for that finish time. Thanks Saturn for providing the custom tats for free!
After a dinner of chicken and noodles (thanks Mom!), I conked out at 10PM with the alarm set for 4:30AM. The race start time was 8AM and I wanted to have plenty of time to hydrate and let my breakfast digest. I slept well but a little fitfully. Thunderstorms woke me up several times during the night.
I immediately sought a weather report on race morning. My parent’s Internet connection typically sucks so I just dealt with the local TV news. The report I viewed on Friday before leaving showed 100% chance of precipitation during the entire race and temps from the mid 50s to about 60. The local news report said that rain was very likely and it was drizzling and wet outside when I woke up. The news reporter said it would be about 60-65 during race hours. I tipped outside to check the temperature and noticed that it felt pretty warm and muggy. However, there was nothing I could do about it as I didn’t bring my running skort with me. Plus, given the high probability of rain I figured that being chilly and wet would not be good. I went ahead and put on my favorite Nike running pants and T-Shirt.
I dragged The Mister into the car and we headed out for the race site. We left a bit later than I wanted (my fault) but made it into the city around 7:15AM. Traffic was nuts and we had a lot of trouble finding the parking.decks that the race organizers listed. I grew up in Richmond but it has been a loooong time since I’ve been in that part of downtown and they had all kinds of streets blocked off. When the clock hit 7:35AM, The Mister volunteered to find parking and I jumped out of the car and headed to the starting line after a quick bathroom stop.
I managed to do a bit of warming up but not as much as I would have liked. I jogged most of the way to the start line and then did most of the active warmup things we do in CrossFit (butt kicks, high knees, toy soldiers). Before I knew it the gun was going off and it was time to start. The whole thing still didn’t feel real, but I was feeling good.
I did a good job of keeping to my goal pace of 8:58 min/mile for the first third of the race. I was a little freaked out that I was going too fast at first/slow at first because I saw a member of the 4:00 pace team ahead of me as well as a member of the 3:45 pace team. I decided that these folks could have just opted out of the pacer squad and relied on my Polar’s time to maintain the correct pace.
I fell into a good rhythm, but I noticed that it was really starting to heat up. I found myself drinking a lot more than usual. I normally have to remind myself to drink at every mile marker, but I was drinking lots of water every half mile. Actually, I didn’t have water at all but an electrolyte solution from PowerBar. I had trained with this solution for about 3 long runs and it worked great. It has a light but not overpowering sweet taste as it hardly contains any sugar at all. This would come back to bite me in the butt later.
I passed the first spectator zone running strong. I was so happy to see my family and The Mister. I felt good and strong. I was especially enjoying the scenery because I was running right near my school, University of Richmond. Passing River Road brought up such fond memories!
I ran along the Hugenot Bridge with its gorgeous view of the James River which we extended by running right alongside the river. At this point, I was feeling really hot despite the shade offered by the trees. All of the water led me to wish for a Port-A-Potty and this was only about Mile 10! In training, I could run 16 miles before really needing to go. I stopped for one but the occupants were taking to long so I ran on hoping the next one would come up soon.
By now, we were in a residential neighborhood heading onto Forest Hill Avenue. There were several rolling hills on the course and the sun was out full blast. It was really becoming a struggle to keep pace. I was already hot and the effort required to tackle the hills didn’t help. I had to use the bathroom and it seemed like none was in sight. I think this is where I started to break down mentally just a little bit.
There was a bathroom somewhere near Mile 11 and that granted relief from one problem but not the rest. My pacing was off and I started feeling like I needed to run faster to catch up which just made me more tired. It was becoming clear that I was not going to hit the half mark at 1:57. Now I’m upset about missing my target, tired and extremely hot. I managed shake it off and a bit because the next spectator zone was coming up at Mile 13.
Seeing the family again gave me a much needed mental boost. I crossed the half at 2:04:40 which is 8 minutes slower than my goal – a total mental blow. No chance of sub-four now was all I could think. To matters worse, I was not doing well physically either. My legs were not tired, but I was really winded and breathing hard. My heart rate was much higher than it normally is at this point. The heat was demanding a lot of effort from me and I just didn’t seem to have it. That makes a marathon a special brand of hell – if you are faltering at the half with 13 miles to go it is hard to keep your mental resolve.
I started walking more each mile. Shortly after the half, my pace dropped to 9:41 and then 10:44. It felt even hotter and more humid if that was possible. My electrolyte drink was warm and suddenly way too sweet. I wanted clear cold water desperately so much so that I had to fight back tears. I was running across the James River Bridge and I didn’t see any water stops in sight. I finally came to a “junk food stop” with cookies, gummy bears and Coke. After giving up soda for the past few months, I swallowed that little cup of Coke in two gulps. It was so good and cold (and no, I haven’t had any more soda since that taste!).
More time passed and I finally got in two cups of cold water. That tasted even better than the Coke. Instead of being just what I needed to push on, I continued to feel like crap. I realized that I was now doing a walk/run schedule. My pace was close to 11:00 min/mile and I didn’t even care. I really wanted to quit. I had a silent talk with God about helping me get through this and while it wasn’t enough to make me start running full out again – it was enough for me not to quit. I was so angry at myself for this disaster that I almost started to hyperventilate to keep from bursting into tears.
Once again, I pulled myself together enough to not demand that my family take me home at the 19 Mile spectator zone. I was happy to see them but sure they were wondering why I was so late arriving at the stop. I handed off my sweaty hat (too hot for all of that) to my sister and set off on the last legs of the race. At the 20 Mile Mark, I was at 3:24:37 when I should have been at 2:59. I wanted to rip off that PaceTat that I was so happy to find. It was totally mocking me and I didn’t need that.
The rest of the race is a blur. I remember chatting with a few other racers and a lot of them seemed as discouraged as I was by the conditions. I saw a few people with 3:45 pace team tags walking alongside me. Clearly this was a tough day for everyone. That just kind of fed my blues and I continued to trudge along. Nothing could shake it – not my music, not the friendly spectators, not the familiar sites of my hometown. I hadn’t even bothered to set another time goal for myself for fear of letting myself down again. I was definitely on a walk/run schedule now – walk .3 miles run .7 miles, repeat.
I downed cold water and Powerade at every stop and grabbed oranges and pretzels out of the hands of kind strangers. At Mile 24, I still wasn’t all that motivated to run full out even though the end was near. Finally at Mile 25 I pushed like I hadn’t pushed all race just to end the misery. I crossed the finish line dejected instead of triumphant in just under 4:30 (official chip time 4:29:31).
My family was so happy for me but I couldn’t really muster up a smile. I started to cry but held back. The Mister was off getting a greasy sausage when I crossed (he hadn’t eaten since 6:30AM) and I’m glad he was gone. All I could think about during the last mile was jumping into his arms and crying bitterly. When he arrived a few minutes later I almost broke down (this picture perfectly captures how I felt) but I didn’t. No one could understand how I felt about the whole thing, so I’m glad I didn’t have the opportunity to get all worked up and make a real scene.
Now that I am a few days out from the whole thing, I feel better about the experience but a bitterness definitely remains. Out of about 3000 marathoners, I finished #1490, #69 out of 195 in my age group and #495 out of 1243 women. That’s not horrible, right? It just upsets me that after 4 months of perfect training for a 3:55 finish and 8:58 min/mile goal pace I ended up with a 4:29 finish and 10:21 pace. Yes, it was very hot and humid and terrible marathon running conditions. No, I wasn’t dressed appropriately for the weather. But I gave up on myself mentally and couldn’t shake it. I could have done better despite the conditions but I couldn’t make myself rise to the occasion and I’ve *always* been able to do that. That is where the bitterness comes in.
Will I ever do a marathon again? I don’t know. I would have unequivocally said no a few days ago, but this comment made me think twice. Thanks Elizabeth. Your words mean a lot. I needed to hear that from someone who has been there before.
So onto new challenges for now. I’ve got a half-marathon coming up in March. At least after doing this, 13.1 miles seems like child’s play!