Sunday, November 11, 2012

Richmond Half Marathon: Work for it!

Today is my birthday! I am 34 years old now. As my father pointed out to my last night, that's mid-30's now, not lower 30's like I had been when I was 33.

I ran the Richmond half marathon yesterday, and it was awesome! The weather was in the low to mid 40's, sunny, with no wind. It was a gorgeous day out, and I was happy to spend a good portion of it outside, running the half marathon and then cheering for Greg in the full marathon.

I ran the Richmond marathon back in 2007, and the half marathon in 2008. I loved both races, but for various reasons, hadn't been back since. My favorite things about this race are that it's a great size-- not too big, but large enough for good crowd support and not to feel like you are racing alone. I also love the variation of scenery-- urban, parks, and neighborhoods. The course is a little hilly, but still fast in spite of that.

In my last post, had set out some goals for not just the race itself, but for the whole weekend. They were:

  • To not compare myself to others-- only make comparisons to myself and my very recent past.
  • To stay focused on the present, enjoying the pre-race dinner and post-race cheering without obsessing about my run.
  • To execute my race strategy, including start slow, finish fast, and focusing on form up the hills.

I had only been training for this race for 5 weeks. It was only 5 weeks ago that I felt recovered enough from my mono to be seriously training, as opposed to jog-walking. I had two 13.1-mile training runs under my belt as well as a 14-miler. All of these runs were fast-finish runs, speeding up to tempo effort in the last 3-4 miles. I also threw in some track intervals. I packed a lot of hard work into those 5 weeks, and I felt ready.

Before the Race
On Friday night, Greg and I attended the pre-race dinner with about 30 Capital Area Runners teammates. We know the risk that we run with large group dinners is our food not coming out on time. In the case of this dinner, we arrived shortly after 6:00 and I wasn't eating dinner until almost 8:00. The other tables in our group got their food pretty quickly, but ours took a long time, and when my food came out, I discovered that they put cheese on all pasta dishes without saying so on the menu, so I had to send it back. I cannot eat cheese the night before a race.

The dinner was a lot of fun. I got to talk to a lot of teammates who I hadn't seen in awhile. Three teammates had come down to Richmond for the sole purpose of spectating and cheering. These teammates in particular are so sweet and supportive, and it was awesome having them cheer for me. One guy at my table really wanted to talk about the race the next day and the times people were going to run, so I took the opportunity to visit other tables and talk about other things. At the end of the night, on the ride home, I noticed how relaxed I felt and how much fun I allowed myself to have by really staying focused on "being present" at the dinner.

In hotel room pre-race
On race morning, I woke up, had my typical breakfast of a bagel and peanut butter, got dressed, and was ready to set out. Our hotel was only two blocks from the start line, so we didn't have to worry about porta potty lines. Although, Richmond does an excellent job with that and there seemed to be so many porta potties, that there were no lines. I went over my race strategy in my head and remembered that I wanted to run this race very strong.

One new thing I was trying in this race was wearing lightweight trainers-- the Mizuno Elixir. I wear these shows for speed work and short races, but I have never worn them in a half marathon. I wore them during the Cherry Blossom 10-miler earlier this year and my legs and feet felt great, so I figured I would try them in a half marathon. I had broken out a new pair earlier in the week for a track workout, so I was confident they'd be fine in the race.

We checked my bag and then headed for my corral. I found about 4 other teammates there, and they were all very pumped for the race. Greg wasn't allowed in the corral (kudos to the race organizers for checking bibs and only allowing those with proper corral assignments to enter the corral.) I gave Greg a final good luck hug and then the race started shortly after.

Miles 1-3
The first mile, photo by Cheryl Young
My race strategy was to take these miles slower than the rest of the race. My coach advises that in a half marathon, the first 5K should be slower than goal pace, and in a marathon, the first 10K should be slower than goal pace. I was targeting around 8:20 for these miles. I was focused on staying relaxed and enjoying the race. During the first mile, I spotted my coach, and the three teammates who had come to cheer. These miles were basically flat, with a few inclines here and there.

Mile 1: 8:19
Mile 2: 8:25
Mile 3: 8:16

Miles 4-6
It was time to pickup the pace, but just slightly. My original thought was that I would keep all the rest of the miles around 8:10, but I was feeling good so I decided I would try for slightly faster than that.  Before the race, I really didn't know what to expect in terms of my fitness level. Recovering from mono, I am making large gains on a weekly basis, so I knew I was in better shape yesterday than the at the 10K I had run just two weeks ago. I've run a bunch of half marathons, so I just relied on knowing what half marathon pace should feel like.

These miles were flat and through some nice residential areas. It was probably the easiest part of the course. I took my first Honey Stinger gel just before the 4th mile marker, and I also ditched my gloves.

There was a turnaround and I saw 4 of my teammates on the other side of it at various points. I cheered for them each individually as they passed.

Mile 4: 8:05
Mile 5: 8:00
Mile 6: 8:01

Miles 7-9
I hit the 10K mat at 50:50 (average 8:10 pace). But this is when the race started to get hard. They had changed the course since my 2008 race and this part was entirely new to me. We ran through a park that was hilly. Up and down and up and down, and around lots of curves. I paid very close attention to running the tangents. In a race where the course curves a lot, it's so important to always run to the inside of the curve.

Aside from the hills, the annoying thing about this part of the course was that the road was somewhat narrow and I got stuck in the 1:45 pace group. I didn't want to speed up to be ahead of them, but I also didn't want to purposely slow down to be behind them. Unfortunately, they were running the exact pace that I was running, so there as no escaping. Normally I wouldn't have minded so much, but with so many people around me, it made it challenging to run the tangents. Also, I slow down on uphills and speed up on downhills because I like to maintain a constant effort. Most people don't do this, so it becomes like leap frog on hilly courses, and I find that to be annoying. I had my second (and final) gel during the 9th mile.

Mile 7: 8:04
Mile 8: 8:07
Mile 9: 8:00

Mile 10-Finish
The last mile, photo by Cheryl Yong
I was so happy to be out of that park. The hills wore me out a lot and I had no idea how I would maintain my pace for another three miles. It was then I reminded myself that I needed to work for it. Strong performances aren't easy, and you have to really push. I had forgotten how long a half marathon truly is, and how difficult it can be during those last three miles to hang in there. I just kept telling myself to work for it. To truly earn it. Greg and I had watched the movie "The Help" earlier in the week, so I also kept repeating to myself "You is Strong. You is Important." That made me chuckle to myself and kept my spirits high.

I saw my friends Nicole and Dan who had come down just to cheer for Greg, me and their other friends. They were very encouraging and gave me a huge boost.

My legs felt great. No tiredness or hurting there. The Mizuno Elixirs were doing great for me! It was just difficult to sustain that level of effort from an energy standpoint. I had to try really hard to hang in there and not fall off pace.

Shortly after the 12 mile marker, I saw my coach. He was soooo helpful! He just told me to keep it strong, to "go, go, go" and that the finish was all downhill. This gave me such a burst of energy right when I needed it. I was very ready for the downhill finish that this course is famous for, but they changed it from the last time I ran. I was expecting the downhill to start at the 12th mile marker, but it actually didn't start until like 12.4, which seemed like forever. I was also expecting downhill, flat, downhill, flat. Instead, I was eventual greeted with this monstrous downhill that was so long and steep, I was worried I would fall flat on my face. I wanted to take advantage of it and not put on the brakes, but I had to restrain somewhat or I would have fallen down.

Mile 10: 8:04
Mile 11: 8:13
Mile 12: 8:06
Mile 13: 7:50
Last 0.1 = 6:06 pace

I finished in 1:46:19, average 8:06 pace.

I was so proud of myself for executing my strategy and for holding onto that pace at the end. My time was on the faster side of what I expected, and I couldn't have been more pleased with my performance.

After crossing the finish line, I needed about 15 seconds to put my hands on my knees and put my head down. I do this at the finish line of every race and after every hard workout. It's because I have a strong finishing kick, which kind of knocks the wind out of me, so I use that position to re-gain equilibrium. Well, these finish line attendants wouldn't have me doing that. Literally, the second I stopped they told me I had to keep going. I said I needed just a few seconds, and they still forced me to keep walking. I walked away and then got into my "recovery position" again, and another person told me I couldn't stop. UGH-- seriously guys. Just 15 seconds is all I need so I don't fall over!!!

After making my way through the finisher's shoot and food line, I found one of my teammates. We walked to the baggage check area together where we met up with about 5 other teammates. Everyone was very excited and sharing their times. I didn't say anything about my race but told them I needed to get my bag. My bag check line happened to be the longest one, with about 10 people ahead of me. It took about five minutes to get through, so my teammates went ahead to cheer for the marathoners, and one of them told me where they would be. I didn't have a map on me, so I wasn't sure if I'd be able to meet up with them again.

Bag in hand, I reached for my phone and called Nicole, who had been cheering for me during the race. She was so excited for me and told me how proud she was of my race. She and her husband Dan came and met me at the finish line, and from there we walked to mile 17 of the marathon.

Greg looks strong!
Let me take a moment to thank Nicole and Dan for their support yesterday. Not only were they there cheering for me, but after the race they both told me how amazing it was that I ran such a strong race after having been out for so long with mono. I thought it was a great accomplishment as well, but it's always nice to get support and recognition from others. Especially since I'm new to this "be happy about a race that isn't a PR" thing. I met Nicole back in 2010 at the airport after having run the NYC marathon. We were both in line to re-book flights that had been cancelled and became instant friends. She and her husband are about the same age as Greg and me, and they are both runners, too.

So, I hung out with Nicole and Dan at mile 17 of the marathon. When Greg ran by, Nicole handed him the water bottle I had for him so I could take a video. Greg looked so strong and based on Nicole's cell phone tracking, I knew he was on target for his goal. We stayed there for another 15 minutes as I cheered for my other CAR teammates and random runners. Nicole and Dan had to leave so I went back to the finish line, where I saw Greg cross the line with a 12-minute PR of 3:37:37.

I met all of the goals I set out for myself, and they weren't easy goals. I didn't compare myself to others, but I did compare myself to my recent past:

  • Two weeks ago, my 10K pace was 7:57. Today, my half marathon pace was 8:06.
  • Four weeks ago, I ran a half marathon as a "training run" in 2:00:58, and it was difficult at the end.
  • Six weeks ago, I was still jog-walking, with the jog portions being around a 10:30 pace
  • Ten weeks ago, I wasn't even able to walk around my neighborhood at a normal walking pace
I also was afraid I would never recover, or that I would never be the same runner I was before the illness. I've worked extremely hard over the past several months to stay positive, re-define what I see as an "accomplishment", and to physically get myself back into shape. It all came together for me yesterday, and I'm very proud of myself. 

I learned some things about myself yesterday that I didn't expect to learn. I won't elaborate here because I'd prefer to keep them private. Let's just say I have a renewed focus on what's truly important and what I truly value.


  1. Awesome to see that you're not only recovering from the mono, but you're in such a great mindset about running! I'll be in town for the cherry blossom, so I'm going to try to get a spot-- if I don't, I'll still come & cheer for you [I'm guessing you'll get a spot with your team?] Glad you're getting back to normal post-mono stuff & happy bday!

  2. Congrats Elizabeth!! This post makes me so happy for you.

    Happy Birthday too!

  3. YAY!! You had such a great race! Your race photos show that you were having a great day too! Very happy for you! Congrats on that speedy half and meeting your expectations!

  4. Wow, great race! What consistently strong splits...

    Nothing more empowering than to set a strategy in motion and implement perfectly.

    You rock!!

  5. Happy birthday!

    Congrats on your impressive comeback! I almost matched your pace, but just came up about 8.1 miles short. :-)

  6. Happy Birthday and welcome back to racing. what a great come-back ! congrats !

  7. I'm so proud of you, Elizabeth! Excellent race, excellent attitude, just excellent EVERYTHING! So glad to see you are on the up and up!

  8. Amazing accomplishments all around—especially in realizing post-race how going easy on yourself mentally led to such a strong performance physically! I'm planning to steal your strategy at the Philadelphia Half Marathon this weekend.

  9. Happy Birthday, and congrats on a job well done!

    Also, I "stole" your fueling plan for my race, so thank you. Having never raced more than 10 miles before, I had no idea what miles to take gels.

  10. Happy Birthday and Congrats!! I heard that Richmond is a challenging course and you met all your goals! Very nice!!

  11. A belated happy birthday and a big congratulations!