Monday, November 25, 2013

Guest Post - Josh Haney - Richmond Marathon

Note from me: I'm really into guest blogs right now, since I don't actually have time to write much or have many races to write about. Not surprisingly, the guest post by Jack Morrison after his Historic Half is the most-viewed post on my blog ever. So Josh Haney, fellow W&M graduate and Team Blitz member has written about his great run at the Richmond Marathon. Josh spends a little bit of time sucking up to me in this post, which was unsolicited, but thanks for making me seem like a nice person, Josh.

As a long time reader of Bert’s and other people’s running blogs, I’m honored to get a chance to contribute my own race recap, for the 2013 Richmond Marathon.  Thank you Bert for indulging me and I apologize in advance for the length.  Splits are at the bottom if you want to skip to down there.


I’ve been a runner since I was 12 (16 years ago), but the pinnacle of my running success came in 2006-2007 when I was a member of Bert’s Team Blitz at William and Mary.  My marathon PR of 2:55:43 comes from the 2007 Shamrock marathon, where I ran 1:23 high/1:32 low, inspiring a series of photographs so hilariously painful that they were shown at my rehearsal dinner by Marshal Miller, to the great delight of the crowd. 

From then until the middle of 2012, I ran erratically and minimally, gaining 15 pounds in the process, and predictably ran very slowly whenever I did race.   Last December I did the Three Bridges Marathon in Charlottesville, woefully undertrained and still a bit overweight, shooting for 3:05 and crashing hard to finish in 3:18.  My friend Shawn Winter had trained with me for the race, and although he was in far better shape than me at the time, he also crashed and finished in 3:17 at the 2012 Richmond Marathon.  After Three Bridges I remained injured for three months (peroneal tendonitis and IT band) and swore off marathons completely.  Sometime (I think it was in April), Shawn told me he was getting a group together to run Richmond and asked if I wanted to do it.  Reluctantly I agreed and we put together a tentative plan to shoot for 3:05 (BQ) or 3:00 if things went really well.  

I could continue to write my life story here, but suffice it to say training went very well, and I enlisted the help of Charlottesville running guru Mark Lorenzoni to help plan my running schedule and averaged 55-65 miles per week through the fall.  After a series of successful races (including a 36:46 10k PR) and some good workouts (16 mile marathon simulation at 6:31 pace), I knew I had a chance to challenge my PR and secretly thought I might be able to run 2:53.  On to the actual race.

Race day:

I got up race morning at 5:00 and heard the pouring rain while I sat and drank my coffee and had my typical pre-race breakfast of Trail Mix Clif Bar and a banana.  Even my dogs seemed to wonder what the hell I was doing up so early.  I wasn’t too concerned with the rain, as all of the 5 forecast websites I’d been neurotically checking all week said the rain would taper off around race time.  I was more concerned about the cloud cover, hoping it would stick around until the finish, since the temperature was supposed to hit the low 60s with high humidity.

I picked Shawn up at his house at 6:40, as planned, where I went in briefly and we cut holes in the gigantic 55 gallon drum trash bags that I brought.  The bags looked awesome, and since we’re both short they pretty much touched the floor.  I wished we’d gotten pictures of this.  From there we left and parked a few blocks away from the start and stood around in the garage for 10 minutes or so since it was still pouring rain.  Once the rain slowed down we put on the garbage bags and walked toward the start line.  We got some funny looks but the funny looks turned to wished-I’d-thought-of-that looks when it started raining again. 

After we checked my bag we went out for a short warmup.  After about 3-4 minutes we decided we’d had enough since it was already moderately warm outside and we had to run 26.2 more miles.  After this I took my PowerGel and used the bathroom one more time in a construction site next to the start.

Pre-race plan:

After discussion with Mark, my pre-race plan was to run the race pretty conservatively, starting 7:00-10, 6:50, 6:40 for the first 3 miles before settling into 6:40 pace until mile 16.  After this, I could “take the training wheels off” and start to race.  I was really looking forward to hitting this point, as I hate holding myself back pace-wise.  Note to the reader: all of the splits I list are readings from my GPS, which was reading each mile 3-4 seconds short.


Finally, the race.  Knowing that I wasn’t planning on running any faster than 7:00 for the first mile, I said good luck to Shawn, took off my sweats, and lined up right in front of the 3:05 pace group, figuring that would be my company for the first mile.  Once the gun went off, I eased out onto the course and was immediately passed by 50+ people, including the whole 3:05 pace group.  Worried I was going too slow, I looked at my watch, which said 6:35 pace, so I slowed down even more and was passed by another 50 people in the first mile.   I passed the mile in 7:03 and breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t blown the marathon in the first mile.  About this time the rain picked up considerably.  Miles 2 and 3 were otherwise uneventful, 6:48 and 6:39.  I was trying to find a few people to run with, but everyone I talked to said they wanted to run 3:05 or 3:10, and I was blowing by most of them while running 6:50 pace.  I thought everyone knew that you’re supposed to run the first few miles slow, but I guess not everyone has coaches like Mark drilling it into their heads every time they talk to or get emails from them. 

Around mile 3 we turned onto Grove Avenue, which is a long straight stretch of road that is slightly uphill until mile 6.  From miles 3 to 6 I talked to a guy in a headband named Eric from Harrisonburg who had run in college and was doing his first marathon.  He said he wanted to run 3:05 and I tried to tell him in a non-condescending way to back off a bit, because we were running under 3 hour pace and the marathon really sucks if you go out too fast.  Little did I know that he would back off, and then run the last 10k in 37:45, blowing by me at mile 21 en route to a 2:52.  Miles 4 – 6 were run in 6:43, 6:35, and 6:45.  It was about mile 6 that I realized my GPS was reading the miles a little bit short – I’m not sure if it always does that, or if it was a little off that day, or if I was doing a really lousy job of running tangents.  Maybe a combination of the three, since I was staying toward the right side of the road since my hip felt a little tight.  Right before mile 6 I took my PowerGel.  At mile 6 I had intended to toss my gloves to Lara and Shawn’s wife Christina, but got so excited to see them that I forgot and looked down at my hands at mile 7 to see them still on.  At this point they were soaked anyway so it wasn’t like they were making me too hot.

At mile 6 we turned on to River Road, which is the most downhill mile on the course (drops 150 feet per the Garmin).  At this point Eric dropped off and I was on my own again.  I knew this downhill was where I could make up a few seconds, so I let myself flow down the downhill, consciously trying to maintain the same perception of effort.  I passed the 10k mark at 42:19, which was 20-30 seconds slower than I wanted, but I wasn’t worried because I had plenty of time.  I did note that I’d need to add 3-5 seconds to my GPS splits to give me accurate mile splits.  I hit mile 7 in 6:16, which was probably a little too quick but it really is all downhill for a mile.

Mile 8 takes runners across the Huguenot Bridge on River Road, which was a bit windy.  I talked briefly to one guy who looked really fast but said he had just got back from his honeymoon and wasn’t in shape.  Mile 8 was run in 6:35.  Perfect.  After the bridge we turned onto Riverside Drive, which is one the most beautiful stretches of any marathon in the country.  At this point I caught up to a guy with a really awesome Fu Manchu (sp?) mustache who seemed to be tearing past groups of people at the same pace I was.  I told him his ‘stache was awesome and that I had one for about a week before my then-fiance made me shave it.  He said his wife actually encouraged him to grow it.  I don’t know if I believe that, but it was awesome.  And hideous.  I asked him what he wanted to run and he said Mark’s least favorite marathoner’s phrase (“I’m just going to run how I feel”), so I knew he wouldn’t be around for too long.  Miles 9 was 6:33 (a little quick but it was slightly downhill) and mile 10 was 6:41.  ‘Stache guy dropped off shortly after this (I saw him after the race and he said he’d run 3:08).

Even though I was flying by groups of people at this point, I was a little alarmed after hearing my official 10 mile split, which was almost a minute slower than I wanted to be at this point, so I started to pick it a little here.  Mile 11, through a bunch of neighborhoods and the most uphill in the race, was run in 6:38.  In retrospect I probably would have been better suited to be a little more patient and wait another mile or two before I picked it up.  At mile 11, we turned onto Forest Hill Avenue, which a lot of people complain about because it rolls a bit but is my favorite part of the course.  Miles 12 and 13 were 6:39 and 6:30.  At 13 I saw Lara, my parents and the rest of the cheering squad and got pretty pumped up by this.   I chucked my gloves at my dad (I think I hit him in the face) and took my gel from Lara, and took it immediately since I was feeling a little hungry and didn’t want to wait until the water stop at 14.  I figured it would be ok because PowerGel is pretty watery, but it still didn’t go down great.  Miles 14 and 15 are slight net downhill going back to the river, and I got rolling a little bit, passing a number of people in 6:24 and 6:27.  I passed one guy in American flag shorts who looked like he was in pretty rough shape (I later saw him in race pictures with Adam Otstot, who ran 2:27, so he must have been really cratering).  I don’t think he finished as I couldn’t find him in the results.

I passed the bridge on Belvidere alone before mile 16.  For the first time in the race, I didn’t feel great. I was hoping to hit this point ready to start flying, but I guess I had picked it up a bit early.   Miles 16-18 are uphill on Main Street and I was starting to get worried about feeling this bad early in the race.  In my previous marathons, I had felt this way right before I hit the wall.  I maintained my pace on these three miles, running 6:38, 6:41, and 6:38, but felt like I was working a lot harder than I wanted to.  The marathon is a funny animal though, because once I turned on Boulevard past 18 and got some PowerAde, I started to feel a lot better. 

Just past mile 18 I passed two guys and one of them came with me.  We started to work together and passed a bunch of people on Boulevard, running miles 19, 20, and 21 in 6:27, 6:41, and 6:40.  It helped that I knew I was coming up on the Bellevue arch right before 21, where I knew my friend Brett would be with my third gel, which I felt like I needed.  I got my gel from Brett and waved to his girlfriend and his lab Sadie, who is much better behaved than my labs would have been at the marathon. 

After taking the gel, I felt a little better, running mile 22 in 6:44.  I wanted to be running a little quicker at this point, but was happy since I hadn’t had any calf cramps or needed to run 8+ minute pace to this point like I had in my other marathons.  I was hurting but just told myself to keep it together and keep moving and just to keep it under 7 minute pace for the rest of them.  I almost accomplished this, running 6:58, 7:03, and 7:10 (uphill) for miles 23, 24, and 25.  After 25 I knew  I was going to make it, but couldn’t seem to get my legs to move any faster and hit mile 26 in 6:57. 
The last quarter-mile or so of the race is pretty awesome and painful at the same time.  You can run really fast, because it’s all a pretty steep downhill (my last .4 miles were 5:44 pace), but after 26 miles your quads are saying “Please don’t do this to me” and every step hurts.  I tried to enjoy this last stretch and looked around for Lara and my parents in the crowd.  Two guys came flying by me with about 40 meters to go and I responded with everything I had and passed one of them back.  It made the finishing pictures look a little ridiculous, and maybe I should have let them go since it was the difference of finishing in 67th and 68th place.  It’s hard to suppress those instincts though.  Official finish time was 2:56:15.

After the race I stood around at the end of the chute, huddled in the fleece blanket they gave out (so much better than the mylar ones!) and waited for Shawn to finish, getting yelled at by the security guard several times for being in the way.  Like me, he faded a bit in the last few miles and just missed his goal of 3:03 and his PR of 3:06, running 3:08, but ran much, much better than the previous year, so I think he was happy enough with that.


Kudos to anyone who is still reading this; I didn’t intend for this to be this long but I have thoroughly enjoyed writing it.  Since I just missed my goal of 2:55, I’ve gone back and forth about how to feel about the race and what went right and what I could have improved on.  I think the conditions had something to do with it, as the top 200 places ran on average 3:59 slower than last year and people who did the 2012 and 2013 marathons ran on average 3:30 slower this year (yes, I’m a stats geek and did this analysis).  I think I’ve come to the con

clusion that it was a B+ race, in B conditions, and I’ve run enough marathons now to know that that perfect days in the marathon are pretty rare.  I ran a positive split, but it was less than a minute even with the late-race fade.  I probably should have been a little more patient in miles 10-13, but this is by far the closest I’ve come to executing a really good race plan, so I’m happy with that.  My hydration strategy was perfect, as I didn’t cramp like I did in the previous marathons even though it was a little warm outside.  In the bigger picture, to go from a 3:18 to a 2:56 marathon in a year, from being out of shape to feeling competitive again, and to go from forcing myself to run to loving it again is awesome.  Most importantly, I’m anxious to be done with my break and start running again, which definitely wasn’t the case after the last two marathons.  I’m thinking about making an assault on my 10k PR at Monument and doing a fall marathon (maybe Chicago or Steamtown), with some other races sprinkled in.

Thanks to Bert for letting me write this and best of luck at Three Bridges.  Thank you to Lara for all of her support this year, even though I’m sure me being gone Saturday mornings on 2-3 hour runs aren’t the way you want to spend most weekends.  Thanks to Shawn for all of the long runs throughout the year; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them and will miss them even though the extra sleep will be nice.  Thank you to Mark for all of the training advice and planning; this wouldn’t have been possible without your help.  Finally thank you to my parents and everyone else who has supported me this year; your support has meant so much and made this possible.


  1. Great post and well done on your race Josh! Bert's guest blogs are the best....

  2. Thanks Jack! I totally agree (Josh again by the way).


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