A year ago, I was 14 weeks pregnant and in Richmond to support many of my friends who were running the full marathon, half marathon and 8K. I wasn’t officially running a race, but I was there to support my friends and run with Amanda for the last 8 miles of her marathon. While I was there I fell in love with the Richmond Marathon races, and I started dreaming about running the half the next year. I knew I would only be about 6 months postpartum, so I figured I’d run it for fun as a way to get back into longer distance racing. That changed a bit once I started realizing how well my training was going. I was hitting awesome new paces in speedwork and even on long runs. I felt strong and ready to test myself. I decided it was time to get rid of my half marathon PR that was set way back in 2011 – 1:48:55. I started training for not only a PR, but I was hopeful for a finish around 1:45:00. I had no idea if I was dreaming too big, but I figured it was worth a shot.
Kevin and I took a half day at work and headed down to Richmond around 1:00. We were hoping to miss Friday traffic and thankfully we did. We arrived by 2:30 and went straight to our hotel to check-in. We couldn’t get a hotel downtown because they all booked up really fast, so we stayed about 8 miles away near the airport. It ended up working out great though, because it was cheaper, we had a suite style room, and we were right next to our friends Stephen and Laura who also have two kids. Score!
After unpacking and feeding Kyler, we headed out to the expo. I picked up bibs for myself and Laura, and we spent some time wandering around. I love checking out the expo before a race – it makes me really excited and gets me even more pumped up to run.
One of my favorite parts of the expo was a huge wall that had all of the runners names on it. Can you find mine? :)
After the expo we went straight to dinner to meet our friends. Many people recommended a place called Joe’s Inn, so our whole crew (6 adults and 5 kids) arrived right around 4:45 and we were ordering by 5:00. We have all learned from experience that eating early the night before race is very necessary! Plus it’s just better with all of our kids schedules and bedtimes. We had a delicious meal and some good beer, and left feeling fueled and relaxed!
Once we were back in our hotel and starting to wind down for the night, Laura and I set out all our race stuff to make sure we didn’t forget anything and to take a photo of our ‘flat’ selves. We went back and forth on what to wear, since the forecast said it would be in the 30s-40s and a little windy. We decided on shorts with compression sleeves and long sleeve shirts. We also had old shirts that we were planning to wear and then throw away once the race started to keep warm.
Once everything was ready to go and the kids were asleep, I went to bed shortly after. I think I was in bed by 9:45ish, but I woke up quite a bit throughout the night. Kyler woke up to eat around 2 a.m. and I was restless until my alarm went off at 5. I got out of bed feeling really nervous. I hadn’t run a race where I was putting a significant amount of pressure on myself in a LONG time- it had been over a year due to pregnancy and the initial postpartum period. I almost forgot what it felt like! I got myself all ready and tried to eat my usual pre-long run/race breakfast [peanut butter and honey toast] as best I could, but it was hard to get down thanks to my nervous tummy. I also drank some coffee, which is always part of my pre-race routine!
The kids both woke up shortly after, so we all hung out for a while before Laura and I needed to leave. I nursed Kyler at 6:00 and then we headed out around 6:20. My hubby volunteered to stay behind with all four kids (two 3 year olds, a 10 month old and an almost 6 month old… brave guy!), while Laura’s husband dropped us off near the start. Thankfully, it was a quick ride into the city, and we were able to hop out of the car and into the lobby of the Marriott by the starting line. We waited in the warmth for a bathroom, then went to meet some ladies in our local Moms Run This Town group before we had to get in our corral. It was great to see familiar faces and helped ease some of the nerves!
By this point it was around 7:15 and Laura, Cynthia, Erin and myself needed to get into our corral with wave B, which was scheduled to start at 7:32. We gave each other quick pep talks and then Laura and I moved up to be near the 1:45 pace group. We both hoped to finish around 1:45, but were not planning to run together since we really wanted to run our own races and had slightly different strategies. My plan was to run around 8:00/mile. I needed an 8:18 pace or less to PR (my PR from 2011 was 1:48:55). I knew an 8:00 pace would feel comfortable for a while but I was concerned about maintaining that. My goal was to keep around that pace for as long as I could to push myself and see what I could do. Since I didn’t eat my whole breakfast, I decided to eat a half pack of Honey Stingers to make sure I started the race fueled. I also threw off my extra shirt, and got myself mentally ready to run.
The race began right at 7:32 and we were off. For the first mile or so I stuck close to the 1:45 group, but I quickly became annoyed by how many people were clustered around the pacer and felt the need to get away. Once I did I was able to settle into my own rhythm at a comfortable pace. I tried to hold myself back and stay around an 8:00 pace but it was hard. I felt great and I wanted to go with it. I wasn’t sure if I would regret it later but I really wanted to finish this race knowing I gave it my all, so I decided not to be a slave to that pace and instead go with what felt good.
- Mile 1 – 7:55
- Mile 2 – 7:44
- Mile 3 – 7:52
I kept Laura in my sights for a while and then around mile 3 we ran side by side for a little bit. We didn’t want to talk very much because we were really focused on not wasting energy. She started picking up the pace and I backed off a little. I knew she was going to finish ahead of me and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I wanted to make sure that I ran my own race. I ate another half pack of Honey Stinger chews around the 30 minute mark and decided to continue with that, eating again at 1 hour and again and 1 hour 30 minutes.
- Mile 4 – 7:49
- Mile 5 – 7:56
- Mile 6 – 7:54
I don’t have any pictures from the race itself because I didn’t want to expend any extra energy trying to mess with my phone, but shortly before the 6 mile mark we entered a park and it was gorgeous! I passed 10K in 48:50 (7:52 pace), which is actually faster than my current 10K PR from a few years ago. However, the park ended up taking a LOT out of me. Richmond is advertised as being a flat, fast race, and my experience running the last 8 miles of the marathon with Amanda last year verified that for me. What I didn’t get to experience last year was this park. It was hilly and the ground was made up of broken and cracked asphalt. I wasn’t expecting all the hills and they really broke my momentum in my stride and my breathing. My pace creeped up into the 8:00s during these miles, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to recover well from that extra effort I expended during that part. I lost sight of Laura ahead of me, and the uneven terrain was bothering me. I felt like I had to focus really hard on how I was landing which was distracting. I couldn’t wait to exit the park and get back on the regular city/neighborhood roads.
- Mile 7 – 7:56
- Mile 8 – 8:13
After we exited the park a little before mile 8, I spent the next couple of miles focused on getting back into my rhythm. It was hard. I did get my pace back down a little but it stayed above 8:00. I also ate some more Stingers which helped boost my energy some. Even though my pace started creeping up, it was still easy to judge if I was staying under my goal of 8:00 average pace since it was an even number. For example, I knew I needed to be at or under 1:12:00 at mile 9 to still come in around 1:45, and then 1:20:00 at mile 10. I continued to meet these goals (beating my current 15K and 10 mile PRs in the process!), but the nice cushion I had built up was closing. I started to wonder if I’d be able to keep it up. I was feeling it and ready to be done.
- Mile 9 – 8:05
- Mile 10 – 8:09
As I worked on mile 11, I kept having flashbacks to running this part of the course with Amanda last year as she finished her marathon. It made me smile and took my mind off everything. My feet were hurting a bit in the shoes I had gotten on Tuesday – Brooks Adrenalines I have worn for years but just didn’t give them enough time before racing in them – and I could feel myself getting a nice blister. Around this time the 1:45 pace group passed me, and I immediately felt myself getting my second wind. I was NOT letting them get too far ahead of me. I also passed the Penn State cheering tent (my alma mater!) and that boosted my adrenaline as well when I yelled “We are!” to them and they said “PENN STATE!” back to me.
- Mile 11 – 8:19
- Mile 12 – 8:07
I knew I was going to come in very close to 1:45 based on my watch and the math I was doing, so I tried my best to keep the pacers in sight. I saw a sign that said “only 3 turns left to the finish” I knew I was going to get it if I could just maintain my pace. I finally made the final turn onto 5th street and I saw the most incredible view of the best downhill finish, and I literally lost my breath for a minute. It felt amazing to run down that hill, like I was actually flying. I heard Kevin’s voice off to the side but couldn’t look over because I was all teary eyed and trying not to fall.
- Mile 13 – 7:43
- Last .10 – 6:42
I crossed the finish line in 1:44:33, which is an average pace of 7:58/mile. I burst into tears as soon as I stopped. I was so happy and couldn’t believe I had just ran 13.1 miles at a sub-8:00 pace. I walked through the finish chute and collected my awesome swag (medal, hat, blanket), and tried to find Laura. We finally connected on the bridge and excitedly told each other about both of our huge PRs. She had finished in 1:42:33, which is a 14 minute PR for her (!!!). We were so happy to see all of our hard work and training together pay off.
Our families came across the bridge and found us in the post-race area, and shortly after that we found Cynthia. She also had a HUGE PR of 6 minutes, finishing in 1:51! It was such an awesome racing day for all of us – and extra special for us too because we all had babies in 2015. Training alone is hard enough, let alone with an infant AND while breastfeeding, but we all did it. I’m so proud of us!
This is the first race in a LONG time (years!!) where I truly have no regrets. I’m confident that I gave it all that I had and I’m so happy!
After showers and some food, we all headed out to a local brewpub to celebrate before heading back home. Beer and fries never tasted so delicious!
When I first started running I never would have dreamed that I could run 13.1 miles at a 7:58 pace. My last half marathon PR was set back in 2011, before any babies, and was 4 1/2 minutes slower. It feels so good to be getting stronger and it blows my mind what can be accomplished with a lot of hard work both physically and mentally.
Also, aside from an awesome race experience, I love the Richmond Marathon for all the swag you get! A nice fleece blanket, hat, medal and I love, love, love the shirt!
I plan to take this week nice and easy, and then MARATHON TRAINING begins!! BRING IT ON!