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.

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Race Photos