Richmond Marathon – First Marathon

26.2 is HARRRDDDD!!!!!

I can officially now say that. I can also officially now say that, unbelievably, I am a marathoner. It has been a long time since I have been proud of a personal accomplishment but I am indeed quite proud and happy about this. 
But first . . the race. We arrived in Richmond after a beautiful drive down, of all places I-95. The Maryland and Virginia foliage was a couple weeks behind Pennsylvania and quite peaked on our way here. The weather was perfect and remained perfect throughout the weekend. We drove to the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sport Complex and to the expo. I picked up my bib and packet from the Runner’s World Challenge booth where I met Jen Van Allen (who is now probably one of my favorite people ever) and several other contributors to RW. I arrogantly believed I could make a 3:30 in my first marathon and hit the Customer Service desk to move my Corral from 2 to 1. That was easy enough. Then I did some shopping including picking up a signed copy of “My Life on the Run” from Bart Yasso and spending a few minutes talking to him.
Then it was on to the Omni Hotel for check-in. I was surprised how far the hotel was from the expo. At 4:00pm, the RW Challengers got a two hour strategy session/entertainment from the RW crew including some stories from Bart about Comrades. Certainly something I am even more in amazement of now. After the strategy session, a bunch of RW Challengers headed off for our pre-race dinner at a local eatery.
Race day dawned cool and beautiful. 36 degrees. A little too cool to stand around outside but this is where the RW Challenge REALLY paid dividends. They had rented the National Theatre right by the start. (Literally.) We had warmth, food, coffee, and bathrooms! It was awesome. We sat and ate, and talked and saw the half-marathoners off. Then we got a picture of the first-time marathoners (including me). Gotta see if I can get a copy of that. After another pep talk from Jen and Bart we all headed for the corrals. I shuffled my way, confidently, to corral 1 and the 3:30 pace group. I hooked up with a couple guys I would run most of the first half with just by dumb luck.
At the start I was supremely confident and excited. I KNEW I could do 3:30. Our pacer did a great job for the first 6 miles staying in the range of 7:57 to 8:02. Perfect. 10K split was 50 minutes.  I had not had a chance (due to my own stupidity) to fool with the regular powerade they had on the course. All of my long runs had been done with Gels & water so that is what my fueling plan was. I took one gel to consume at mile 7 and then there were gels on the course at mile 14, and 21. Beginning mile 7, our pacer started getting a bit fast. 7:31. Hmmm. Mile 8, low 7:40s. Okay maybe my pace just seemed fast because I’d play catch-up after the water stop. But the paces remained 20-30 seconds fast through my 14. (Revised: After checking splits the pacer was pretty darn close to perfect. Must have just been me).
But at mile 14 disaster started. I don’t know how, but I MISSED the gels. I expected them to be on or near the tables. Later I learned they were being handed out before the water stops (a hundred feet or so). In the chaos of the water stop I had missed them. That can’t be good.
On we went. Mile 16 was the famous Lee bridge that is supposed to be the beginning of the Wall for most. It isn’t steep (actually completely flat) but is supposed to be windy. It was not all that bad though I did note the name of the last road we passed before heading on to the bridge was “Stonewall Avenue”. Throughout the course, there were members of “The Marathon Training Team”. They were simply there to help out the runners. I was planning on grabbing Powerade at mile 18 but at 17 I was already beginning to feel the lack of fuel. This was bad. Effectively, I was 17 miles in on one gel and water. Thankfully, one of the Training Team members had gels and I grabbed one. . . but it was too late. The wheels were coming off. Between getting behind in electrolytes and fuel I started getting a bit light-headed and crampy and had to walk a good portion of mile 18. This part of the course is the most desolate. A few people were out but not like the warmer confines of the city or the scenic beauty of the river. It was demoralizing to say the least to know I had been reduced to a walk and for the first time EVER as a runner was having to deal with cramps. Thoughts of just quitting were rampant. I had hit the wall and the wall had fallen on top of me. 
Then I saw mile 19. And I got another gel from another training team member. I started running again a little at a time. Starting mile 20 there were aid stations every mile. At each one I grabbed water and powerade and more gels. I stopped once or twice to stretch.
The walk breaks became shorter. I didn’t like them but it was either that or don’t finish. And I WAS GOING to finish. The 3:45 group passed. But I saw several other runners from the 3:30 pace group floundering as well. By mile 23 I was beginning to feel like the fueling was catching up. I was pumping in water & powerade and gels at each opportunity. Part way through mile 23 I began running for good again. I knew I really only had to make 25.7 and then it was a LONG downhill. I realized I could still break 4 hours and, you know, that isn’t that bad. At mile 24 I knew I’d be fine. That last 2.2 HURT. But the cramps were at bay, I was passing people again and cruising along around 8:45. Then I crested the hill on Cary St. and saw the finish line and the long lines of cheering fans and Bart Yasso jumping around like a madman just across the line. What a feeling! I crossed the line in 3:53:14. I was a very happy person as I was handed my finishers medal. 
Then it was off to the Omni for our special RW Challenge post-race reception with massage, food, etc. In the lobby there was a RW Challenge volunteer by the RW Challenge flag. She said, just go up to the second floor and pointed toward the steps. I said “We’ll take the elevator”. I no sooner hit the massage table then my calves locked up painfully tight. But Elaine kneaded them out and I enjoyed great food, and the fellowship of the marathon.
Later, after a shower, we all enjoyed an after party at the Bank and Vault right around the corner from the hotel courtesy of Saucony. I can say if you get a chance to do a RW Challenge event DO IT! I am so glad I did for my first marathon. I’ll do one again if given the chance.
But for now, it is lessons learned about fueling, and the doule-edged sword that is pace groups. Finally I just want to thank EVERYONE on the Runners World Masters forum and RW Challenge forum for your encouragement and support over the last year+ as I learned about running, and distance running. I could not have accomplished a marathon otherwise. 
Addendum
The Omni had a Starbucks in the lobby. That was the only place to get coffee. Sunday morning, the day after the race, I went down at 6:30 to get coffee. It turns out they don’t open until 7:00 on Sunday. When I got to the door, Bart Yasso was standing there looking in also wishing they were open. So having a half-hour we sat down in the lobby and fired up our laptops. For 30 minutes I sat surfing the web and talking running with Bart Yasso! How cool is that? Someone made the joke later that he’ll probably tell his kids about sitting and talking with me. But I think he might! You would think that after all the races he has done and runners he has met that they would all blend together but he seems to remember them all. What a great guy! (And Bart, I’m not saying that just ‘cuz you bought the coffee when Starbucks opened)!
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