Sunday, November 5, 2017

Four words

I’d been saying four words to myself for a week. Four words, over and over again. It’s just a marathon. And it’s not as though the weeks prior had gone exceptionally well either. I went to NYC and got sick. When I came back, I got an antibiotic that proved unsuccessful. While on that, I had to take some days off (including a day off of work) and I had a glorious bonk in the last four miles of a my last 23 mile long run. Several days later, I was still sick and got another antibiotic. That one really took it out of me. Two pills a day, ten days. Those pills were awful. I had to take the second pill before 5pm if I wanted any hope of falling asleep at a reasonable time or waking up in time to go running. If I had the strength to run at all. But I was going to finish up that medication nine days before the race, so I knew I’d have time to bounce back.

I made the mistake of not doing a workout one day when I couldn’t the next, so it got pushed to that Friday. When I started my warmup, my right hamstring was really tight. I thought nothing of it and went about my run. But after two of my intended eight intervals, it was getting worse, so I stopped the workout. I wish I could have stopped the run, it was hurting that badly. The next two days, the pain did not go away and I was limited to about 30 minutes before it got to be too much. I decided I’d take the next few days off of running and instead get in the pool So Monday - Wednesday, I was at the YMCA—first one in the water at 5am. I swam and I aqua jogged, and told myself those same four words. Wednesday afternoon I had my leg worked on. Thursday, I would run.

23 minutes, after school, at the warmest part of the day, with full tights on. It didn’t feel good. I went slowly, but picked it up at some point to see if running 6:30 pace felt better than running 8:00 pace. It did not. Four words. Same thing on Friday. No better. Four words. I knew I was going to make my final decision about participation as late as possible, so Saturday morning, I got up early and went for the same 5k jog. It hurt less. I was all in. I was going to run this race.

Sunday morning, I left my hotel in a Lyft and got to the Metro Station to ride to the Pentagon. The station opened two hours early for the race and the place was packed already. Being with these other runners who were hoping to finish, ready to tackle the grueling effort, made me realize that the four words I’d been saying all week were relative, and did not apply to these folks. For the first time in years, I felt like I was the least serious runner around me. They had trained, they were ready! They were running with a purpose, to prove something, to honor someone. What was I doing this for? I was very emotional in realizing that this event, today, was about so much more to so many people than I’d ever realized. I'd been really selfish getting here, trivializing the event and not considering how big of a deal it is to so many people. I just haven’t been in this situation before, with these masses of runners, all working to finish. It wasn’t about the clock for them, or if it was, they weren’t’ showing it. It was about the challenge, the course, the commitment. I didn’t know what it was about for me. Those four words were coming back to haunt me. It was a tough pill to swallow.

Early risers
Fast forward to the race. Justin Neibauer was running too, still chasing sub-3. I asked him if it would be OK if I ran with him for at least the first 10K, to keep myself under control and warm up into it slowly. He was happy to have the company. We met up in the athlete’s village, I warmed up for a little bit, stretched, and applied some KT tape to my hamstring. I’d been wearing a hamstring sleeve that I borrowed from Charlie, and in hindsight I should have kept it on. We dropped our gear and made our way up to the starting line—which itself was an incredible experience. Thinking back to the races I’ve run, it’s most similar to Boston. The numbers of people around are incredible—more so than in Hopkinton, because they stagger the start times there. In Chicago, I’ve always been ahead and in the sub-elite Olympic developmental group (or whatever it’s called these days) so I haven’t seen these crowds. But this was incredible. Having the helicopters and jets and stuff fly overhead was cool too. I thought of my kids and hoped that they were getting to see it all. They left the hotel early that morning to make it to the course to spectate.

Computational thinking on my mind?
There was a delay in the race because of something on the course, during which I convinced Justin we needed to move up closer to the start. We weren’t going to finish behind 500 people so we shouldn’t start behind them either. I borrowed a strangers phone (first of three times today—spoiler alert) and texted KC so she wouldn’t think I was dead already when I was 5 minutes behind where she expected me to be.

The gun went off and I was in trouble. My hamstring wasted no time in reminding me that it wasn’t 100%. But the adrenaline got me off the line and Justin and I began our race. I encouraged him not to look at his watch a few times in the first half mile. We saw a runner running the wrong way on a road next to the course and then pass us. I hoped he wasn’t cheating. Turns out he and a bunch of other runners took a wrong turn almost immediately and had to backtrack. I looked for my family as we went through Rosslyn. I was completely lost in that effort and was unaware of where I was on the course until my watch vibrated to alert me of the first mile—I’d forgotten to turn off autolap and did not even know where the mile marker was relative to that split. It gave me a 6:56 and we’d already passed the mark, so we were going too fast. We’d agreed that he should run over 7:00 for the first few miles BEFORE I got hurt, and here I was ruining his race plan. But then I saw my family with the Crafts, cheering at me in the crowd, and I forgot all about being off pace.

We started up the only significant hill of the race and were passing a lot of people, but getting passed by a lot of people too. I tried to slow down as the pain started to creep up, but we split a 6:44 second mile up the hill (again, GPS, not mile markers). And then things just sort of started to settle. Justin would run next to me or right behind me, we’d chat a little every once in a while, but we just kept running. I was hurting, but honestly it was less than it had hurt at all in the past week. I was bored to death with how slow we were going (no offense, rest of the world) and we just plugged along. I was looking around, taking in the sights of DC as Justin regaled me with tales of Marine Corps Marathons he’d spectated when his dad ran them, and I thought of my dad running this same race before I was born.

I looked along the route at the spectators to see if I knew people, always looking for my family. There was one girl who I saw three times in the first nine miles. I told her that, too. I chatted with other racers as we grouped together. I did math in my head as we passed mile markers to get actual splits, but never touched my watch. I was actually starting to feel better—noticing my hamstring less, feeling more confident. KC and the kids had a great view of the course on some bridge (Rt-66) right around mile 10, and I waved up at them, smiling. I told Justin our gun time for 10-miles (I don’t remember what it was). He told me that his brain didn’t work anymore and asked me the pace. We were somewhere under 6:50 probably, but I felt ready to keep up the pace and he did not. So I consciously let go of him (from ahead of him) and just started to run. My GPS was more closely mirroring the clock splits, and I was running in the mid-sixes. My 11th mile was a 6:21. I thought that I could conservatively keep that up, and then maybe in the second half of the race get closer to six-flat or faster.

I was wrong. 77 minutes in, I felt a pull. OK, too soon, I thought. Let’s back it down to 6:30-6:40, maybe group back up with Justin. Nope. For the next four minutes, I slowed down until I was running over 7-minute pace until I just had to stop. I came to a complete stop. Let’s review other times I’ve come to complete stops during a marathon:
  • Boston 2004 – Had to go into a bathroom
  • Shamrock 2006 – Had to tie my shoe
  • Chicago 2009 – Had to stretch (twice)
Not a track records of success during those races. Tying my shoe wasn’t that big of a deal, but this didn’t bode well. I stretched, then got back on my way, briefly. Somehow, I managed to split 6:30 for the 12th mile, with walking. I did not stop my watch. I approached the Blue Mile, which the course website describes as “the emotional blue Mile of the course where fallen service members are commemorated in photographs along the roadway decorated with American Flags." What a place to have to walk through. Looking at those pictures, passing people standing every two feet holding up flags. There was nowhere for me to go but in the grass. I couldn’t walk on the road past all of those people. It was embarrassing.

Justin had already passed me and I walked across the 20K mat. I was still in this race. Over the next nine minutes, I continued to attempt running, but it would only last for a few meters. I could not continue to run. But I knew I had to be looping back at some point, I just didn’t know the course well enough to know how far. It was over. I stopped my watch at 12.82 miles, after 90:43 of running.

I started my watch over for the walk that I was about to do in order to get back to my family. I walked for a few minutes until I got to the half way mark… somewhere around 96 minutes gun time. There were two spectators there—one kind enough to let me use his phone. I sent KC a text to let her know I was no longer running the race. For the next 55 minutes, I walked along the course. I took a gel, I took water, I almost took some Halloween candy, I almost took a mimosa, but I didn’t want to stand around drinking with their actual glass champagne glasses, nor did I want to take that with me. I was passed by thousands of people. People offered words of encouragement, trying to get me to continue. I saw other people stop to walk/stretch and jump back in. I tried to do the same, just to get this nightmare over with. But I couldn’t even jog two strides. Running was not an option.

Once I got off of the Hains Point area, I was excitedly looking for KC everywhere, but also growing more and more embarrassed as I walked along the course. Sometimes I popped up onto the sidewalk to get out of the way of the actual runners. I made sure to cross the timing mat at the 25K so that she’d get a text message to let her know I was still alive, but she didn’t—they only went out at the 10K and 20K. She’d planned to see me at 16, so I thought there was a chance that maybe they were walking towards me, but I also just thought that’s where I would find her. 16 was right around a 180-degree turn, and she was nowhere to be found. I borrowed my third and final cell phone, but this time to call her. She was at mile 16 too, we’d just missed each other. So, I kept walking.

We reunited somewhere after 16. She said I looked great, considering. I offered to keep walking the course (I only had 10 miles to go!) if they wanted to wait and I told her I was in high spirits, mostly because I’d already had an hour to be depressed and sad, now I just wanted to go home. I made a tough phone call to my mom, who was at the finish, to let her know that I wouldn’t be arriving by foot and apologize for wasting her day. We continued to walk along the course until past mile 17, where I officially dropped out of the race and we headed for the metro. Four words.

My GPS splits
The metro station was a tough place to be. There were people walking around with their medals on from the 10K, and even a few people who had already finished the marathon. I was standing around in my racing kit, looking like an idiot. I came out and went to get my bag, and who should pop up but Justin! He was going to get his bag too, and said he’d had some watch issues so he wasn’t sure whether he was under three hours or not. I pulled my phone out of my bag, and the last text that I’d received was his finishing result, 2:59:53! We celebrated briefly before he announced his retirement from marathoning. His result made my day a whole lot better, and I felt less sad for myself.

We loaded up into the car, went to the hotel to pack, get lunch, and hit the road. While I was in the hotel room packing up, KC was in the car with the kids, who had fallen asleep. I came down to the lobby to find them all inside, because the car had started smoking and she had to get them out and shut it off. The day continued to get worse. Who gives a shit about dropping out of a marathon now? My mom called to tell me that my grandmother had taken a turn for the worse and probably wouldn’t make it much longer. Who gives a shit about dropping out of a marathon now?

Long story short, we got the car “fixed” after a brief wait ($$)—thank goodness there was a place open on a Sunday! We had a stressful lunch, got to Fredericksburg to see my grandmother one last time (she passed away the following Wednesday morning at 92 years old), and I haven’t run in two weeks. I talked to a few people while I was waiting for the car to get fixed and KC was entertaining the kids in the hotel lobby/an ice cream place, and it’s all about perspective.

The Internet is still waiting
for me to finish the race.
Those four words though. It’s just a marathon. Well, now that it was over, I had new four words I was thinking about. I’ll never drop out. I’d given a lot of shit to people who dropped out of marathons. Sean. Alec. Rachel. Chris. Sean. I always said I wouldn’t. I told Charlie before that I wouldn’t line up if I didn’t think I could finish. If I started the race, I was going to finish it. Well you know what, I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I could NOT finish that race. I tried! And it wouldn’t have been worth it to walk from mile 11 to mile 26.2. What would that prove? That I’m a stubborn ass, probably. KC said she was proud of me for dropping out. That sounds silly, but it was the smart thing to do. The only thing to do, really. Am I eating crow? Absolutely. But there’s nothing I could do about it. And none of those people who I’ve given so much crap to have said a word to me (granted I don’t talk to any of them much anyway). But if they did, I’d welcome it.

I had some really good training until the end of September. It doesn’t matter what I thought I could run, but I was feeling good about it. Then I got sick, and I got injured. I did the absolute best I could to rehab and make it to the race healthy, but it wasn’t meant to be. Now I can say that I’ve dropped out of a marathon. I’m in that club. I’m embarrassed about it, but at the same time, I’m not, because I tried. I didn’t drop out because I was slowing down or I wasn’t feeling well. I could not run. Period. I probably shouldn’t have even lined up, but I would have never known. This way, I knew for sure and I have little regret.

2018 is going to be the year of the 5K. Take that as you will. I’ll come back to the marathon in 2019, somewhere. I have unfinished business at Marine Corps, but that may have to wait until another year.

I welcome any and all trash talk about me dropping out. I deserve it. Just say it to my face (or directly to me electronically)—that’s what I would do to you.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

All I do is win

It is the third weekend of November and I ran my third race of the month today, the Kelly Watt Memorial Race. My fall racing season has ended with a third place finish over the two mile cross country course. I'd consider the season a success. Today's race first:

The seriousness with which I approached this race was tremendously lacking compared to years past. Two years ago, the team was preparing for Club Cross Country Nationals at Lehigh and we did a 3 x mile workout prior to the race to get in a bunch of intervals on the grass. Last year, I probably arrived well in advance and warmed up adequately before hand, although I wasn't in the best of shape at the time as indicative of my adjusted racing schedule. This year, I didn't set an alarm, slept in (thank you, Sam & Henry), hung out with the family before realizing I needed to leave for the 9:00 AM race.

I briefly allowed myself to entertain the idea of winning today on my drive there. I didn't think that Sean was going to be there. Matt, Charlie and Thomas are all in Philadelphia getting ready to run the marathon tomorrow morning. Adrian and Alec had tried to psych me out earlier in the week about the fitness of the Albemarle boys XC team, but I'm not about to start worrying about what high school kids can do. But then I remembered that there were several other RMR guys who could show up-- namely Dave, Andy or Steve, and the moment was lost. Arriving at Panorama Farms though, Lee pulled in next to me and I knew for sure that I wouldn't be breaking the tape-- his miler kick had been my undoing many times before. With a marathon in my legs from a week ago and only one run since then, I knew that today was likely to have a similar result.

Saturdays are for cross country
Lee and I had a very short warmup with Lindsey Graybill that was a few minutes too early for my liking. We finished and I had way too much time before the race was going to start. During that way too much period of time, Nick Ward came over to our pile of stuff and asked me what I was planning to go out in. I laughed a little and told him that I had no idea, but that I'd just run a marathon the week before so it might not be too fast. He said he'd heard about the marathon, but was hoping that someone would be going out fast, as in, 5:10 pace, so that he could go out with them but not have to lead. I definitely laughed in his face. Go out in 5:10? Me? Not today, my friend. I suggested that he talk to Lee, or see if maybe Sean was around and running, because I would be doing no such thing today. Nick meant business though, as the Western boys had run their annual post-season mile time trial and Nick went 4:34. Today's race was going to be the longest race of his life and the tipping point on whether he tried his hand at the 5K at Foot Locker South in a weeks time.

Everyone was trying to psych me out before this race, as even Lindsey was doing strides and drills getting ready to go to the line. I was just not in the mood for such seriousness. The weather was warming up and it was a perfect morning for a short little jaunt around Panorama.

After Kelly's best friend and mom gave their memorial speeches, we were off. As is typically the case, there were some eager beavers going hard out of the gate, and one of them actually started throwing some elbows at me as the path narrowed 200 meters in before the first turn. Nick was doing exactly what he wanted to do/didn't want to do and got out hard and built a sizable lead immediately. I made my way around the turn and found myself running in 6th place behind Nick, three children, and Lee. I decided to hug the rail on the left side and try to run the shortest path possible, and found myself breathing easier than I did on the warm up, so I thought I'd make a go of it. Just like two weeks before in the Men's 4 Miler, I found myself running on the left side of a crowd with Lee running on the right, the two of us working off of each other, striding along effortlessly.

I saw Cass on the course taking pictures (two out of three photo credits go to him) and a couple of other folks cheering, including Beth Keith, librarian TA at Cale and mother of Monticello runner Eli. I'd talked a lot of trash over the last year and a half to Eli and the other Mustang Harriers, so a trio of them came today to try and take down this old man. I gather that Eli must've been close to me somewhere in the first 800 meters as I heard Beth cheer his name while I was approaching her. He was not one of the three who went out in front of me though.

It look a little longer to pass all those kids than I thought it would, but then it was just me and Lee, chasing down Nick. As we continued to head away from the start/finish area, I mentioned to him that it looked like we were gaining on him. Lee agreed, and we focused on trying to reel him in. I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn't going to be beating either of these guys today, but I might as well hold on for the wild ride for as long as I could. Lee and I kept moving up and back on each other... not necessarily surging, just doing a better job on different parts of the terrain than the other one. There was no mark for the mile on the course. I had an idea about where it was, but not enough confidence to bother looking at my watch ever. We just kept pressing on.

Around a mile and half in (maybe), we take two 90 degree turns to the left. This is when Nick had the opportunity to see how much ground he had on us, and when Lee decided he wanted to cut the course. He was right behind me as I took the first left, but then he was right on top of me because he was treating it like a cone instead of two turns. (I filled an official protest after the race to Adrian Lorenzoni but I think it fell on deaf ears. Not really.) This part of the course is fast and downhill, so Lee started to separate in his effort to catch Nick. I didn't have a whole lot to give at that point so I just leaned in and tried not to fall as I rolled down the hills. We hit the bottom of the course and the stream that's probably a quarter mile to go and then headed straight uphill to the finishing stretch.

Nick and Lee were clear 1-2 at that point, and I'm sorry to say that I looked back going up the hill to see that I had a lot of ground on #4. The question as just about who was going to break the tape first. I entered the gate to the last 200 (thousand) meters and watched the race unfold like a freakin' spectator. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Lee couldn't quite catch Nick and I just strolled on in, losing so much ground on Lee that Alec was shocked to hear that I'd even been with him at the mile. I finished in like, 10:46 or something like that, only a few seconds slower than I was last year.

Maybe I had the wrong attitude in thinking that I wasn't going to beat either of those guys, but I know my body right now isn't going to let me do those sorts of things. This was my second run post-marathon and I was just happy to get it in. I had a lot of fun, got to see some friends I don't see as often as I would like (Lee, Lindsey, Nick, Cass), and got my heart rate up for about 10 minutes. My (sanctioned) racing season is officially over for 2016. As I've mentioned before, I'll run the Turkey Trot with KC (CASE RACE AGAINST TEAM RESNICK!) and then I think I'll celebrate Boxing Day three days early with my friends.

Somber reflections of the year to come in about 6-8 weeks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


I got a little fatigued in that last blog post, wrapping up the Richmond Marathon. I'd written up to mile 21 in one day and the last 5 miles the next, so I apologize if there was a lack of continuity. I just wanted to get it done, honestly. The race and the write-up. So I'll wrap up some of the minutiae here: I finished in 19th place, 5th in my age group. I averaged 6:05 pace. I've run 9 marathons faster than I did on Saturday, and placed higher than 19th in 7 marathons. Richmond was the 15th marathon that I've run. It is the third marathon I've run since becoming a father, and the first one since becoming a father of two.


I said I had mixed feelings about the race, and maybe I didn't go into enough detail about that. I am generally happy with the way that I ran. I was patient during the first 17 miles, got after it during the last 10K to pass just about everyone, almost running with reckless abandon. It felt like racing, which is not a feeling I've had before at the end of a marathon... strength. I enjoyed it. I ran a decent negative split, which hopefully will net me a new pair of New Balance shoes courtesy of Strava. I was smart and was able to finish strong (ish) at the end because of it. I got under my time goal of 2:39:59 with several seconds to spare.

Additionally, Matt ran great. He was a little banged up coming into the race, skipping the Men's 4 Miler and a couple of other workouts around it. Alec and I were really worried that Matt killed his chances with our 12 mile tempo at Riverview, because things were looking really bad for him for a while after that. But he took care of himself, listened to his legs, and showed up on race day. Maybe he was a little over his time goal (I'm disappointed to say I'm not 100% on what it was), but he ran a massive PR. His wife said afterwards that it was a great success because they weren't going to the emergency room (which has happened in the past.) That's certainly one way of looking at it, but either way he did a good job and I'm proud of him.


But then there is Alec. All jokes about not finish the race aside, I'm just sad that my friend had a tough day and walked away disappointed. I've run marathons with guys who had a bad run before. Hell, I've been that guy a bunch of times (Chicago 2009, Outer Banks 2009, Twin Cities 2010, Boston 2015) and it sucks. But usually those guys finished the race and just ran slowly. It's another beast when you can't get to the finish line. And it's not like he ran like an idiot like some people I know who consistently drop out of marathons for going out too fast. We were doing what we were supposed to do-- running controlled and hitting the paces. It just wasn't in the cards that day for him.


Back on the positive side of things (wait for it, it's coming), I ran a few seconds slower than the Three Bridges Marathon. The point of that race was to run under 2:45 and I ended up going faster than necessary and running 2:39:44. When I realized that on Saturday or Sunday (re: looked it up), I was pissed. How did I not run faster this time? I only trained to run 2:45 then, and this time I was shooting for a faster time! Well today I realized a couple of those reasons but the number #1 difference to look at is this: During the 3BM, I broke my foot at mile 17. I FELT IT BREAK during the race! I couldn't walk for a week and was in a boot for months after that. It was awful. Thinking about Richmond, I walked away sore but pain free. I was ready to go running Sunday (didn't) and actually ran this morning. No boot. No break. Just tight and sore.  So who cares about 7 seconds? I can run tomorrow morning if I want to.

Left Right A B A B Start

So what is next? People always ask that after a big race. I wonder if the 5K Weekend Warriors get that a lot too. I'm not signing up for another marathon this week, if that's what people are wondering. I'm going to run the Kelly Watt Memorial 2 Mile on Saturday morning at Panorama. I love racing on the grass and definitely plan to spike up, regardless of how embarrassing it will be. I'll probably still beat Alec though. Although this is his chance at redemption-- I've got an extra 9 miles in my legs that he doesn't have. I'm going to run the Turkey Trot in FXBG with KC on Thanksgiving. Then I just want to stay in some semblance of shape through the winter and keep the injury bug away. The Charlottesville 10 Miler will be in March and I'd like to run that without worrying about Rachel catching me at the line. Then who knows? There's always the White Whale. Maybe I can train for that. I'll be 34 years old then, but that's still plenty young. I mean, geez, Matt Boyd is about to get second place overall in the FARC Grand Prix... anything is possible in this day and age. I'm definitely going back to Mekong to get some more crispy pork spring rolls.

For the first time in a while though, I definitely mean it when I say it: Onwards and upwards.

Monday, November 14, 2016

New Spring Roll PR

The Richmond Marathon is over, and I have mixed emotions about it. I ran the time that I intended to run, but everything didn't go the way it was expected to go. When Matt, Alec and I started talking about this race a year ago, the goal was for the two of them to PR. I don't know what Alec's PR is. His first marathon was in San Francisco and I think he decided to do it on a whim, qualified for Boston, and then dropped out. I think there was a third attempt somewhere but I don't remember where. Matt's was well over three hours after several attempts, but after running with him for roughly a year and a half, it was clear he was capable of greater things. So we all agreed to run this race and train for it together, with me promising to hold Alec's hand all the way through the line to run sub 2:30, and Matt somewhere well back of that but far below the three hour barrier.

Then life happened. Multiple babies were born. Injuries, family complications, travel, work, etc. Life just happened all over the place for all three of us. So we reigned in our goals: Alec and I would run to break 2:40, Matt at 2:45. It was a conservative goal for the former, despite the fact that I was in awful shape entering the fall, and Matt's was probably spot on-- but still a very significant jump from what he'd done previously and one that would require a lot of mental preparation to do something that just seems so fast comparative to past performances.

Those guys got into great shape. Alec was pushing workouts that I conceded to prior to even starting them, and Matt was there every step of the way with him. Naturally, when some guys are doing well and others are not, trash talk ensues, and this situation was no different. But it was all in jest and I was happy that my friends were excited about the race and motivated to do well in it. But then life just kept happening. All three of us got sick the week of the race, mostly because our family members were sick (yes, I am blaming our children on getting us sick) and because the pneumonia weather (very cold in the AM, very warm in the PM) started with November. But it made no difference. I'd run sick before, running one of my better half-marathons with a fever, pumped full of antibiotics, and after an 18-mile long run the day before. I knew I could run long while under the weather.

Fine Scott, I'll get on with it...

Race morning comes and we're in the car at 5:15 AM headed East (ECFU) to Richmond. It was only the second time I've slept in my own bed before a marathon, but I definitely liked it. We made a quick pit-stop at Aw Shucks for the bathroom, hit up my sister-in-law's house to grab our packets (thanks Kim, although I know you'll never read this!), another bathroom break at a WaWa for Princess Alec, and parked at my "secret" parking spot on Old 14th Street. Mark was supposed to be waiting for us in the lobby of the Marriott to take my GU and Alec's water bottles, so we headed off to the bag drop and to find some bathrooms. It was very cold and we were running a little behind schedule of where I wanted to be so I was trying to move fast. The lines for the portapotties were unreal, so we went into the Sheraton. I knew that they had a lot of bathrooms available after staying there a few times before, but I was unprepared for what it was like inside of that building. The line for the men's room on Floor 1 was insanely long, and they were using both the men's and women's restrooms on Floor 0 for women. I'd pretty much left Alec and Matt at this point (they weren't planning on warming up or going back to the car and I was) and I decided I'd just pee there (I couldn't wait) and then do whatever else I needed to do later on the warm up. The urinal line was nonexistent and I was relieved. But then no one was using the last three stalls for some reason so I just took the opportunity to hop on in.

I left the Sheraton with about 15 minutes to spare as they were starting the half marathon.  I needed to get to the car, change into my racing gear, and get back up to 5th and Grace for the start of my own race. I got to the car and was able to leisurely prepare, but then hurried my way back to the line with just moments to spare before we started. I found my way through the crowd to the Renegades, where Alec was distraught because his dad never showed up at the Marriott. That means that I was going to be carrying 2 extra GUs, he was going to be carrying two extra bottles, and he had to leave his favorite vest on the ground and it would be gone and lost forever. On top of all of that, his watch had frozen and he wasn't going to be able to use it. Not exactly the way we wanted to be feeling when the gun was about to go off, but those were the cards we were dealt. He ended up carrying all those bottles while I stored my extra rations in my gloves (unpleasant but not the worst thing that could have happened.)

The actual marathon

The gun went off, we wished Matt well, and went about our work. Because I'm an idiot and I love data, I decided that I wanted to wear my heart rate monitor in this race, which promptly fell off 200 meters into the race. Since I still had on two extra layers on top of an extra pair of gloves and a hat, it didn't fall to the ground, but I did have to spend a ridiculous moment trying to put it back on. We were looking for Alec's dad (never saw him) and also for Tim Young, very distracted and frustrated, while also trying not to run too fast. I checked the instantaneous pace for the first of two times in the race to see we were crawling along at 7-minute pace, so we picked it up as I shed all my extra stuff and we settled in for the long haul.

Tim texted me during the week to ask if I was running the full. He was coming down to watch his girlfriend run the marathon and his boyfriend (Stephen Harrison) run the half, and needed to get in a long run. So his plan was to find us somewhere after the start and run around 6-minute pace with us through 16 miles. Awesome. Except we never saw him! I assured Alec that he'd appear any minute, and that it would be easy for him to catch us. I sort of expected him to come at us from the front as he'd realize we weren't ahead of him and just wait for us, but that's not what happened. So Alec and I just focused on running straight and relaxing for the beginning of the race. It was super windy as we headed down Broad and then Monument, and there were tiny little pockets of runners all in front of us. The half marathon crowd next to us had started 15 minutes earlier and were still making their way to the 5K mark on the right side of the road. 

We talked a lot in the past few weeks, and this last week in particular, about what paces we were going to run to start. I'm always a big fan of a uber-conservative race strategy and originally pleaded the case to run 6:30 for the first three miles. Nothing comes without controversy, however, and we finally settled on more of a 6:30-6:15-6:10 approach. Alec looked at the elevation profile for the course and mapped out the times for every mile and three-mile segment along the way. I joked about him carrying the piece of paper with him in the race, when in reality he could have just written it on his arm. But our first 3 miles were perfect. We ran 6:29, 6:16, 6:10 down Broad and Monument. But then I got a little aggressive. Moving onto some side streets and just getting tired of the wind blowing in face, I pushed us too fast and too early to a 6:03 and a 6:05. Alec expressed his disappointment and I deliberately and drastically slowed to a 6:17 on a solid "uphill" mile. Not quite the 18:30 he wanted to do, but life is all about compromise. We went through the 10K in 38:44, just ahead of the 39 minutes he'd told his wife, Lawren.

We saw a few people on the side of the road cheering each of our names, and I remarked to Alec that we were each getting a pretty even spread of names. We realized that our bibs actually had names on them (but Alec's said "Zoni,"), so anyone who called his name actually knew him, and mine may have just been relying on the name tag. I told him we should have been keeping track along the way.

Just a regular run

I don't know what prompted me to turn around on the 7th mile, which was our first real big downhill, but Tim was there! He told us that he'd gotten stuck behind the four hour runners but ran a bunch of 5:30 miles to catch us. People apparently were yelling at him to "respect the distance, young man" as he went flying by them during the first 10K. The audacity of some people... Having Tim join us was fantastic. It tremendously dropped my stress level (which was never that high), because from miles 7-15, it was just like any other day of my life from 2009-2012 running with a friend on a cold morning. We talked about all the same crap that we usually do-- FCPS, FARC, how his youngest sister is smarter than the rest of his family combined, etc. I almost completely forgot that I was running a marathon, save for the fact that I was becoming increasingly aware of the fact that my left calf was getting pretty sore, I had a stitch in my left side, and my abs felt like they'd been on the receiving end of a boxing match (not quite like I needed to use the bathroom but not quite like I didn't... I don't know.) We started to pick up a nice little group too, with 4-5 other guys benefitting at some point from the fact that we had a 2:14 guy setting the tempo with a 2:26 guy as we ran 2:42 pace. We covered 7-10 in 6:07, 6:08, 6:10, 6:11. That seems like the wrong progression, but we were steadily going uphill.

Alec, though, was not feeling too good. I noticed that was we started to pick it up, he started to fall off a little bit. We'd dropped everyone else in the group save for one VT guy (who originally was ahead of us but stopped to pee before Tim joined and latched on for a while.) I realized we were a) going too fast and b) losing Alec, so I told Tim we needed to drop back and I told the Hokie that it was going to happen. He wished us well and went on his way ahead as we closed mile 11 and 12 in 6:03 and 6:04. Definitely too fast at the point, especially given where we were on the course.

Alec regrouped with us, telling us that we didn't have to wait for him and we hit mile 13 in 6:15. I may have been waiting for him, true, but I also didn't want to run low 6-0s at that point in the race yet. He'd heard from someone (I think 10 people on LetsRun) that Richmond was a fast course if you could make it to mile 18 feeling good, and that from there it was all fast and flat. I excitedly declared that we were right where we wanted to be as we hit the half marathon in 81:10 (my plan was to run between 81-82 minutes.) He agreed but said he wasn't planning on feeling as bad as he did at that pace, and I agreed with him too. Miles 14-15 were a nice downhill stretch as we gathered ourselves to  run across the James River, and we covered them in 6:02 and 6:09. Getting on the bridge, Tim told us to tuck in and he'd lead the way. I do love Tim but he is not big enough to block the wind for me. But we crossed the bridge in single file nonetheless. This was the second time that I checked the instantaneous pace and my Garmin said that we were doing 7:10 pace. Tim's said 6:05 (or was it 6:30) and we have the same exact watch, so I call it a wash.

That bridge took forever though. It was probably the longest part of the race up to that point. We covered it in a 6:19, which is pretty good compared to what Alec wanted at 6:15, considering how windy it was out there. I'd been thinking about giving Tim my gloves when he dropped but after crossing through all that wind I decided I needed to keep them, no matter how wet they were from all the water stops. Alec thanked Tim for a fantastic job getting us across the river (like Washington crossing the Delaware) as we briefly returned to town. I saw one of my former UVA students and waved at her. She called out my name and not Alec's despite the fact that he probably coached her at Albemarle too. One point for me.

That would be the last point we could keep track of. We headed off towards mile 17, where Mark should be waiting for us. I asked Alec if he was going to yell at his dad when we saw him and got no answer. Tim said he'd stay with us until he saw some street names he recognized and went almost all the way to 17. Mark appeared with someone I didn't know and also Karen Pulliam (I'm sure that was coincidence) and started asking Alec if he needed any water or gels. I looked over to see this other guy sprinting alongside of us next to with a bottle and a gel. Marked yelled to ask if he wanted the water poured on his head. I joked to Tim that it was 30 degrees out and no one would want water poured on them. 

He'd been talking to me for the past few minutes about catching the next two or three people in front of us over the final miles of the race. There was a group of four that we could see pretty close by that included the Hokie kid, and then two more people pretty far ahead of them. Tim suggested that Alec and I work up to one group at a time, sit on them a little bit and then go on to the next one. I assured him that I'd pass everyone who I could see. He pealed off and then it was just the two of us. I turned back to Alec, who was a few feet behind me, and told him to come up with me, as we were running the same pace so we might as well run together. He may have tried, I don't know, but I said it again. He told me to go on ahead without him as we got to the 17th mile in 6:06.

Picking up the pieces

Then I was alone. This was a long stretch of road on West Main Street that then turned right onto Boulevard for an eternity. The group of four had splintered, and I quickly passed a woman who'd been dropped hard. The Hokie was the next in my sight. I knew that we'd be crossing the bridge by the Diamond and could see the top of the bridge in the distance (miles away), so I took that that tangent as best I could in the sunlight while everyone I could see was hugging the right over in the shade. If they'd been running in a group, I could have understood it, because it was very windy again, but they were all alone and there was no shelter from the headwind. It made no sense to me. But this is where things got out of hand, a little bit. I was excited to be past the James and on the back half, and I started picking it up. Too much. Passing the Hokie, I ran 5:58 for the 18th mile. I crossed Broad Street and set my sights on the next runner, a woman (she was in 2nd). Moving up to her, I got to 19th in 5:52. A little too hot, too early.

I passed her going over the bridge and moved down it pretty quickly to catch the next guy. He was wearing a maroon jersey (turned out to be VT as well) and was the first guy I've seen on the course taller than me. After that last mile, I decided I should listen to Tim and actually sit back for a little bit, so having this jolly giant ahead of me gave me the perfect opportunity to hide from the headwind. I had a hard time settling down though and actually clipped his heals once. I apologized and was feeling very light hearted. As we worked towards mile 20, there were two other people in front of me that I was thinking about: one short dude wearing a pink shirt (I'd thought he was a woman 13 miles before) and another dude in neon yellow. Otherwise I was thinking about a total time when I got to 20. Part of my brain was thinking about some of my lower faster races being well under two hours at twenty miles, and another part was thinking about the 3 Bridges Marathon, where got to 20 in right at two hours in 2:02:51(I looked it up, I was wrong. I also thought I ran a lot faster that day than I did. Oops.) and decided to see if I could run under 40 minutes for the last 10K to break 2:40. Yesterday at 20, I was 2:03:04 after running 6:10 behind my wind block.

This was depressing news. As I just said, I thought I ran a lot faster at 3 Bridges than I really did. I thought I ran 2:36 or something. That race was just a formality, trying to run under 2:45 to get a Boston Qualifier so that I could get from Logan to the Government Center in 2015. Yesterday I thought I was over 3 minutes slower through twenty than I was that day in Whitehall. So I tossed away my "pie in the sky" goal of 2:37:21 (if you want to know why that specific number, feel free to ask.) But slowing to a 6:10 was unacceptable, and I was chomping at the bit to get into this last 10K. We had merged with the half marathon course a few miles back but I actually caught the last three participants here. I'd had a little trouble getting my last GU down, so I decided to start earlier with #3 in an effort to use the whole thing. The half runners took some left somewhere to do a loop before popping out in a neighborhood right where the marathon 21-mile marker was.

The road was coned in the middle and marathon runners were supposed to be on the left, but I was taking the tangents anywhere I could and some spots were full of half runners, no matter what side I was on. Getting to the water stop at 21 (first one at an odd mile-- they'd be at every mile the rest of the way), I pointed to the first water guy to let him know I was coming to him, as I'd done at every single stop and always do. Reaching my hand up to take the cup from him, I heard laughing and saw another volunteer sprinting at me with a cup in his hand and basically shoving his cup right in front of my hand as I was about to grab the other guy's cup. Both cups fell to the ground and I had nothing! I tried to get another cup of water from later people but they'd all given them to the half marathoners and were reloading, so I got nothing! I was pissed, and the guys were laughing about it, so I said something less than pleasant to them. Of course all of this happened in an instant, and I was stuck with cold, dry chocolate-mouth. Ridiculous. I've seen little kids fight over who gets to give a cup to a runner, but these guys were adults.

In my frustration, I missed the 21st mile split. Realizing that, I took a split late. 6:09. Good Lord how fast was I going? I don't know how far behind the sign I was, but this had me pretty excited. The pink shirt was getting really close, although I seemed to be having a hard time actually making much ground up on him for a while. There were some rolling hills and turns in this nice little neighborhood we were running through, but I was worried about the lateral motion as my legs were starting to feel the pavement. I just tried to focus and move up. Luckily, someone had started to set up their own water table and I was able to snag a cup to wash down my GU. But I was starting to lose my mind...

We were either on Fauquier Avenue or Brock Road, and things were getting narrow. There was a median and both races were on the same side. Crowds were loud and supportive, there was a beer table, candy, soda, wet towels, all sorts of things. As I ran by one group of people standing in the median, a shorter girl with straight, blonde hair wearing a beanie and holding a baby cheered my name. "Anne! What are you doing here," I thought. "This isn't mile 22!" I was so rude and focused, I didn't even notice my own sister standing right in front of me. Later though, I heard someone yelling from 50 yards in front of me, "My brother is coming! Everyone cheer for Bert!" So no, apparently that wasn't Anne, and I didn't miss her. I was so out of it. Passing Anne, she told me that I was in the top-20 and I asked her to call KC. I don't know what exactly I wanted her to say to KC, probably just to tell her I was alive, but that's all I could muster at that point. Call my wife. KC later confirmed that Anne did in fact call her, and had no idea what she was supposed to be telling her.


I don't know if I passed the pink shirt before I got to my sister or after, but my short mile 22 split was a spicy 5:43. So either way, I'd run 11:53 for 2 miles and gotten back on track under 6-minute pace after sitting behind the giant Hokie at mile 20. There was one more guy right in front of the pink shirt, wearing neon yellow, and I rolled by him too before taking a dangerously painful turn onto Lombardy Street. It was starting to occur to me that I was running out of miles to run, and I had a lot of race left in my legs with guys that I could see and still catch. I ran through a traffic circle and almost got hit by a pedestrian who wasn't paying attention before spotting my friend Sarah walking the half marathon with her brother and sister-in-law. I yelled at her and she told me that I was slow. Thanks, Sarah. That's what I get for being friendly. But that me think about being slow for a second and I wondered where the 23rd mile marker was. I glanced at my watch to see a high seven-minute time... damn, I missed it again. I decided not to take this split until I got to 24-- a time of 7:50 and 3:50 would make no sense to my brain, but I could still compute 2-mile times.

I passed Mark and Karen (again, strange coincidence) again, and Mark asked me where Alec was. I think I tried to shout out some gibberish, but only managed really to shrug my shoulders to him. Getting ready to take one of the last few turns in the race onto Grace Street, another person got right in my face and yelled at me. I had no idea who it was. No. Clue. But I loved having my name printed on my bib-- it was very helpful in making people yell at you. This turn was TOUGH, and I took it pretty wide (the least tangential part of the race for me probably) but swallowed up two guys immediately afterwards. There was just one more that I could see close to me, and I knew this part of the course. I've run the 8k here a bunch of times and knew what was in store for me-- long, straight stretches of flat or downhill road, with three more turns to take. And here comes mile 24... gotta get that two-mile split: 11:44. Shit. I'm going to die.

No, you're not going to die, drama queen. This was 2:26:40 into the race. I should be finished by now. You're running the Richmond Marathon. You've barely trained for it. This is nothing. You're not even running fast. I ran 11:19 for miles 23-24 in Chicago 2012. In a different vein though, I only ran 12:31 from 23-24 in Boston last year. So I guess I was moving a little bit for an old man.

Those last two miles were a blur, honestly. It was all about run straight and don't fall over. We had some mostly downhill rolling terrain. I passed one more guy right before mile 25 and there was no one left in sight. I did what I told Tim I would do, catch everyone I could see. I hit that penultimate marker in 5:55 and felt a huge pull in my groin area, predominately the left side. Focus. Breathe. You're fine, you've done this plenty of times. Just hug the rail and get it done. I took those three turns gingerly, just trying to stay upright. Then came the downhill.

I told Alec that if we were together at this point in the race, he'd probably put two minutes on me. The old course had an aggressive downhill finish on Cary Street. I've run my 8k PR on that course twice. You could fly on it. But this finish down to Brown's Island is scary. I'd say I've been a mediocre downhill runner in my day, but I just want to talk down this thing. Back in 2004-05, I used to repeat some quote, I don't know from where, about how "seventeen miles of downhill running (in Boston) will turn your quads into hamburger meat." Well, a quarter mile down S. 5th St. to Brown's Island will do the same thing. I told myself I wasn't going to look at my split when I got to mile 26, because really, what's the point? You're already there. Nothing is going to make a difference at that point in the race. It's the same thing in a 5K. Why look at your watch when you're at mile 3 when you can probably see the finish line? I always had to remind myself of that as I came around Pitt Street onto Sophia.

But I don't know what I did. Looking at my split right now to write this, I was surprised to see that it was a 6:02. That leads me to believe I didn't look. What I do know, though, is that when I ran over whatever blue mat they had on the ground so that photographers could take pictures of you from above over something that said "Richmond Marathon," my quads gave out. I hopped a few strides and almost came to a complete stop. I managed, though, to grimace through it (apparent in the photos) and basically roll down the hill to the finish line. I definitely shook my head in disapproval when I saw the clock ticking along to stop at 2:39:51 when I finished, though I'm not entirely sure why. I knew that's what I was going to run, it certainly wasn't a big surprise.
Pained look courtesy of Marathonfoto. Please don't sue.
It's over

So I finished this thing after all. I stood around the line for a minute, struggling to move with my quads locking up, before someone realized what was about to happen and propped me up. Two volunteers continued to encourage me to walk to the right and exist the area, but I politely declined to wait for my friends. I was thirsty though, so I asked someone from the medical tent if I could have a bottle of water. She acquiesced and I just hung out for a while, waiting. Where was Alec? I started to see some of the runners I'd dispatched coming in, hoping to see my friends soon. The girl I passed around the Diamond came in, 2nd place female overall. Ugh, that's disappointing. When they finished interviewing her, I asked one of the reporters what the winning woman ran, but they didn't know. I'd seen no signs of her, so it was obviously well ahead of me. That's not something I'd considered happening today...

I asked to borrow a telephone from a stranger waiting on the other side of the fence so that I could call KC. Our call was brief, I let her know that I'd finished, because then Matt came in. 2:48:05! Holy crap, Matt! That was a HUGE PR! 17 minutes! Oh man, I was pumped for him. I hung up on KC and went to congratulate him, and we both asked each other where Alec was. Oh no. Matt never passed him. He dropped.

Alec, I know you're reading this (or Rachel is reading it to you at work), but it was like Trump had won the election all over again. I just walked sadly through the chute. Medal, Hat, Blanket, whatever. Garbage. We ran into Joel though, and got our picture taken with him. It should have been you. Ugh. On to the bag check, we decided to get your bag so we could at least give it to your family at your funeral. I had 54 text messages on my phone from all the people I'd set it up to track (and then I think I got everything twice for some reason). It took me about 20 minutes to get clothes on, mostly because I have a hard time putting on compression socks when I haven't run for 2.5+ hours, so this was extra challenging. But we got going and found Matt's wife, I inhaled a piece of pizza and chatted with some friends (Skeeter was there and ran 2:35 with only a 12-mile long run leading up to it. Although that is deceptive because he was in shape enough a month ago to drop out of Chicago). This part of the story is really boring and I should just skip to the happier parts soon. We got in touch with Alec through his wife's cell phone. He'd stopped right after I left him, but he will tell you his story in a guest post soon. They were debating going straight home to Charlottesville or participating in our post-race lunch at Mekong. This was probably the most upsetting part of the day up to that point... how DARE he threaten to skip Mekong!?!? This is what the whole thing was all about, I thought, was to get us all down in Richmond and eat pork spring rolls and drink sour beers until our stomachs exploded! No way was he skipping Mekong!

He agreed, knowing that his day could only get better with a belly full of crispy pork goodness, and we all decided to converge on this Vietnamese paradise. It took me about 17 hours to walk back to my car, though I managed to get a pretty picture of Tim Kaine's old house to commemorate my trip to the State's capital. Alec kept calling and texting, as he was getting cold and impatient, fearing that his child might explode at any moment. But hey, I wasn't the one who'd changed the plan and skipped out on our meet-up at Brown's Island. No sympathy here, pal! I shared my location with him so that he'd know where I was relative to arriving, but I sort of forgot that his phone was in his bag, which was with Matt... oops. He texted me as I entered the parking lot asking for my ETA. 10 seconds, Alec. Calm down.

To the victors (and the dropouts) go the spoils

I took a bite first, sorry Instagram
Well, Mekong was amazing. I only ate two spring rolls (I did just eat a piece of pizza) and ordered some entree that was pretty good, but I will definitely be going back there. They had an extensive beer menu (though I doubt I'd like 80% of them) and delicious spring rolls and dumplings. I'd need someone to help me with picking out an entree again (I was criticized when I was going to order fried rice), but it was a cool place. There were lots of other families there with kids, but the acoustics must have been top-notch because I couldn't hear a single person in that place besides our table. Mark called Alec to find out if he was alive and then wanted to talk to each of us. As I am the son that he wishes he'd had, he was very excited to remind me that I barely ran 6:08 pace for 10 miles seven weeks ago, and here I was able to run 6:05 pace for 26.2. I don't know if that speaks more to how badly out of shape I was at the Lynchburg VA 10 Miler or how much better I am at the marathon than anything else. But either way, it's a positive way to look at things.

Back off the phone, I couldn't eat any more. I drank my beer, but couldn't finish my food. #workoutstomach. The group decided to disband, agreeing to never see or speak to each other ever again. Just kidding. Alec tried to ride home with me but his wife wouldn't let him. Later that evening, we were talking about drinking together but I don't think any one of us had the strength to leave the house. I wanted to go running the next day, but as usual, life got in the way. Now it's late Monday night and I have to run tomorrow morning to pick up my car from some far away place before work. Better get to bed. No time to proof read.

Race Photos