I am not quite sure how to start this post. The 2016 Richmond Marathon exceeded every expectation I had:the course, the crowds, the weather, and my race day performance were all amazing. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened, because it’s so unbelievably awesome, but I promise you, it DID in fact happen! Buckle up, this recap will be long.
As I reminder, I went in with three goals:
Best day goal: The stars align and I’m running the race of my life. This goal is what I’ll adjust to if I’m feeling VERY good early on. Goal: 4:40 or under, getting as close to 4:30 as possible.
Better day goal: This is a solid day and things go relatively smoothly and as expected. This is the time that I am pacing myself to out the gate, and will adjust up or down depending on what my body is telling me. Goal: PR (4:49:33) or under, as close to 4:40 as possible.
Good day goal: This is a day where maybe things don’t work out the way I want them to, due to one of the many factors that can impact a runner during a marathon. This goal will keep me going so I can still work toward something and get to the finish line. Goal: Under 5 hours, an 11:25 pace or faster.
Based on my training, I felt like my A goal was realistic, and that a 4:30 was a stretch but possible. I’m happy (and astounded!) to say that I totally blew that goal out of the water and ran a 4:25:48! This is a 24 minute PR from last year, and to be honest, I’m still kind of in disbelief that it happened. Here’s how it all went down:
Race morning could not have been more perfect from a weather perspective. It was in the upper 30s at the start and warmed up to around 50 degrees by the time I finished. There was a headwind at parts of the race, but besides that, the conditions were ripe for a PR.
A really fun thing that happened during this race is that I used some of the newer features on my Garmin 235. I gave many people a link to track me live in real time (much more fun than the text updates you typically get), and I set up my watch so that I would get text messages on it while I was racing. This was so fun because I’d randomly get cheers from my friends/family as I was running, and it made me feel surrounded by support even though I was racing by myself!
Given the cold weather and the wind, I wanted to be sure I didn’t get tricked into not hydrating enough. I decided to carry my handheld with me and made it a point to hydrate throughout the race. My fueling strategy was to take Powerade every 4 miles starting at mile 2, and a Huma Gel every 4 miles starting at mile 4. Before the race, I had a pre-race breakfast of 2 hard boiled eggs & a plain bagel with a V8 juice, and used my inhaler and took 4 slow-release salt pills. All of this was practiced during my training.
During my warmup my body felt loose and the warmup felt easy. As I got in the corral, I was very optimistic that I would have a good day. I posed for a photo with Christina and Brooke (who ran her first Marathon that day!) and then we were off!
Miles 1-6: 10:51/10:47/10:43/10:29/10:24/10:28
My plan was to start easy, about 15-30 seconds slower than goal pace of 10:40, speed up after a few miles, and hold any “new” pace I hit throughout the race a few miles before cranking it up a little more. I thought this would roughly translate to picking it up every 6 miles or so if I was feeling good.
It was chilly at the start, so I did a little longer of a warmup than normal, but I knew it would take some time for my body to get into a groove. You start going downhill, so I consciously held myself back. When we turned on Broad street, we were running slightly uphill and into a headwind. My heart rate was climbing a bit here and I could see it on my watch, so I made the decision to change the view on my Garmin to only show distance, total time, and lap pace. This was probably the best decision I made all day because it made me run the race more on feel than on over-analyzing the numbers. I focused on effort and tried to relax. I talked to a gentleman next to me, Tom, for a few minutes which calmed me down. By mile 4 I was feeling warmed up and picked up the pace slightly and took my first gel at the end of this mile. Miles 5 and 6 ticked by easily. I considered picking up the pace here but I told myself to be patient. I shed my gloves and arm warmers by the end of mile 6, so I knew I was working hard. I focused on hydrating with my handheld and took sports drink at every other water stop.
Miles 7-13: 10:19/10:13/10:24/10:09/10:27/10:12/9:57
A lot of mile 7 was a downhill, so it was a good place to naturally pick up the pace. I was excited for the end of mile 7 because it was the first party station and I knew I’d see my parents! I also saw my friend Brooke’s husband, Dan which was a fun surprise. I saw my parents at the end of the party station, got high fives, and breezed by to head to the other side of the river.
At the end of mile 8, I took my next gel and also refilled my handheld. We ran by the river for a few miles, and these miles just clicked by. I love this part of the course because it is just so beautiful and peaceful. I felt like I was putting in a good effort, but felt strong at the same time, so I just focused on maintaining and enjoying the scenery. I was in a good groove. I ran into another blogger Christina on the course for a few minutes and chatted with her before pulling ahead.
There were a few hills in the 10th mile, and the water stop at the end of this mile was at the top of a hill, so I walked through this one to get my heart rate down and take some sports drink.2016 @Sportsbackers Richmond Marathon Race Recap Click To Tweet
Miles 11 and 12 were a bit boring and hot, but I was mentally prepared for this from last year. I took another gel at mile 12 and then got ready for the next party station at mile 13, where I saw Dan and my parents again. I also unexpectedly saw my friend KT cheering. It was an amazing boost and got me ready for the next leg of the race.
Miles 14-20: 9:56/10:05/10:09/10:11/10:06/10:11/10:02
The next two miles were a slight downhill, so it was a good place to pick up the pace a little. I refilled my bottle at the end of 14. Towards the end of the 15th mile, I started feeling the wind and began to mentally prepare myself for the Lee Bridge.
Mile 16 was the bridge, and it was into a strong headwind. I put in my second headphone, put my head down, and just pushed through. I tried to run behind people when possible to conserve energy. This part of the course is so tough…it’s long and desolate and just hard. However, I knew Brian was waiting for me on the other side of the bridge and that once I got through this mile the crowds would pick back up. As soon as we got off the bridge I felt my legs and I knew I had fatigued them pushing across the bridge. They felt numb, weak, and hurting all at the same time. I kept feeling like I was going to trip. I knew then that the last few miles would hurt, but I made the decision to push through the pain. I was having too good of a day to slow down. I took a gel, saw Brian and zoomed by, then turned on Main St.
Miles 17 and 18 are tough, because the crowds are a bit spread out and you are running with no turns for almost two miles. There also isn’t much shade. And did I mention that my legs were feeling burned out? I saw Christina’s parents a little into the 17th mile.
My favorite part of this stretch had to be the fraternity that was out drinking and cheering. They saw my name on my shirt and started chanting my name – “Jess! Jess! Jess! Jess! Goooooo Jess!”. It made me feel like a rock star and gave me a nice boost.
I told myself that I just needed to get a the water stop at the end of 18, then I would walk through that and give my legs a break. That’s exactly what I did. This was probably my longest walk break, and it was also my last walk break of the race.
Next, we turned right on Boulevard and the crowds picked back up So many spectators were cheering my name and yelling that I looked strong. I got a really nice adrenaline rush through this part and started getting excited for the next party station. I climbed the hill and knew that the elevation would be easier from here out. I took another gel.
The mile 20 party station is amazing! You could hear it from a ways out. I saw my parents and breezed through it. Once I hit the mile 20 marker, I got an influx of text messages telling me that my 4:30 was within reach if I could hold on.
My legs were hurting/numb/fatigued still, but I knew they would be that way no matter if I sped up or slowed down. I felt like I had more to give from an endurance perspective, so made the decision to take a risk and go for it. I wanted to get the best time I could given the perfect conditions given to me. I literally thought it myself, “time to enter the pain cave”.
Miles 21-26.2: 9:50/9:26/9:25/9:29/9:28/9:04/3:00
I entered the Bellevue neighborhood which is one of my favorite parts of the course. All the residents come out and party, the homes and scenery are beautiful, and it’s the start of lots of downhills. At the end of 21 I saw my friends Jess and John cheering their heads off for me and I dropped my handheld with them. During mile 22 I turned down jello shots, beer, and whiskey in favor of sports drink. I was working HARD and my legs and lungs were burning, but I knew I could hold this til the end if I focused.
I was passing people left and right, so I just focused on reeling people in one by one. I was also getting a lot of texts during this mile and each one gave me an boost. My friend Angie texted me during this mile to push myself to my limit, to which I exclaimed out loud “I AM!!”. I have never felt like that in a race before, it hurt but felt amazing at the same time. I took my last gel. (PS – I try to make it a point to smile for the cameras when I see them…I promise you I definitely was NOT smiling like this during most of these miles!)
Once I finished the 24th mile I knew I had it in the bag. We were back in the city and the crowds were picking up and kept me going by cheering my name. Once I finished the 25th mile I realized I could hit a 4:25:xx and somehow found another gear in me to speed up even more. When I turned onto 5th Street and entered the stretch to the finish the downhill was KILLING my quads but I pushed through. My cheeks hurt from grinning as I crossed the finish in 4:25:46, 15 minutes under my goal, 5 minutes under what I thought possible on the best day, and a whopping 24 minute PR.
After the finish, I quickly found Brian and my parents and started the celebration. I felt surprisingly good after the race. I was definitely tired and sore, but kept myself moving and was able to enjoy the post race party. My phone was BLOWING UP with texts from friends which made my heart so happy. Truthfully, I was on a runner’s high for the balance of the day, but that crazy time didn’t even hit me until that evening.Believe, Endure, Achieve: 2016 Richmond Marathon Recap Click To Tweet
How the hell did I do that?! Hard work, great conditions, and careful execution…that’s how. I’m so excited that I ran a race that I feel more than reflects my training, and that my lesson of “listen to my gut” paid off big on race day. I can’t thank my friends, family, readers, and the city of Richmond enough for supporting me as I prepared for and ran this amazing race.
This for sure isn’t the end of my marathon journey – there will be many more in my future, and I’ll DEFINITELY be back to run Richmond again!!