I've done the Richmond Half once before, as well as the Richmond 8K last year. From those experiences, I've learned the importance of leaving early for the drive down - the duration can vary between a bit over 90 minutes and 3 hours or more, depending on when you leave.
So, I left my house at 8:30 on Friday morning, which worked beautifully. I arrived in Richmond a bit after 10 am, stopped by a local branch of my bank to make a deposit (why run errands up here when I could do them there), and then hit Chipotle (opened at 10:45 am) and the Expo (opened at 11 am) before finagling an early check-in at my hotel. There had been a hiccup with my entry - for some reason I was placed in the 2:01-2:10 corral, rather than the 1:44 and faster - but it was very easy to fix at the expo.
That afternoon, the skies opened up over Richmond, and I'm sure I-95 south of DC wasn't much fun. But I was already happily ensconced in my room, free to spend the rest of the day stretching, reading, and playing Geoguessr.
Per my norm, I woke very early on race morning (4:20 am) to take my asthma meds (they take a long time to fully kick in). Then more stretching and breakfast and listening to music by Underworld and Orbital (my preferred pre-race music) before I headed out. I also looked at the course map once more to rehash my race plan.
The forecast was for low 40s and sunshine, with gusty winds primarily from the northwest. This meant a headwind for the first part of the course, and a tailwind for the final miles.
This course is built for a negative split anyways - the first 2 miles are on a false flat running to the northwest, with the last 2 miles being a gentle downhill, and then a very steep downhill after about 12.5 miles. In between the two we'd have some flat or gently rolling sections, and then some rollers in Bryan Park between 5.5 and 8. At 8, we'd hopefully get a tailwind that would then combine with the downhill last miles for a very fast finish.
|Map copied from the Richmond Marathon|
website, with their permission.
Mindful of the above, my plan was to start out at somewhere between marathon effort and "early part of 5 mile tempo effort"- the exact effort would depend on what I could find in terms of a pack to draft off of. Then I'd start building, but still ducking behind packs whenever I could until we hit Bryan Park, which would be shielded. Then, I'd try to stay patient and not waste too much energy on the hills before turning on the turbo once we hit mile 8.
The last half mile of this course is ridiculously downhill. Pace on this last section is dictated not by how much one has left in the tank, but by one's ability to turn the legs over and will to NOT hit the brakes. So there's no point in saving anything for a kick - best to run as if the final turn was the finish line, and then hang on and try not to trip and fall.
With my plan set, I headed over to the start line, leaving my hotel (about 2 blocks away) at 6:45 am for the 7:30 start. In retrospect, this wasn't quite enough time. My hotel was close, but with my room on one of the top floors, it would take too much time to get back to my room to use the bathroom, so I ended up waiting for a portapottie. This cut into my warm-up, and I ended up with slightly less than 2 miles, plus one 45 second up-tempo run and some strides. I would have liked a bit more, but it was what it was. And since I was planning to go out slowly anyways, I wasn't too worried.
The gun went off at 7:30 sharp, and it wasn't too hard to get into a rhythm. I found a nice pack to tuck into, only to note with some amusement that it was the "1:30 pace group" that I was using. Hm....either this was going to be a long day or they were going out way too fast. I felt good and comfortable, so I decided it was probably the latter. And if it was the former, speeding up was only going to make things worse.
Running with the pack was a bit annoying, both because I don't like to be packed in with others and because it was hard to see ahead. From time to time we'd come upon a handcyclist that had started a bit before us, resulting in a traffic jam. For that reason, once we had passed the first turn, I pulled to the side and eased ahead, hitting my own rhythm.
For the next few miles, I focused on my tempo effort - not too hard, not too easy. Just under that redline. Bryan Park was a bit more challenging than I remembered - none of the hills were terribly long, but some were steeper than I expected, and there were more hills than I remembered. And the road was also fairly torn up. I got a bit impatient here and ran too hard up a few of the hills, unfortunately.
It was also in Bryan Park that I noted my breathing getting a bit tight - my guess is that the gusty winds were stirring up mold and leaf dust. Through the park and for about a mile after, my breathing was not great (though not awful), and I felt myself slipping into a negative place, but I just tried to put that aside. My breathing wasn't that bad, and worrying about it wasn't going to help me while relaxing would.
We hit mile 8 and turned, and I was a bit perturbed to realize that my hoped for tailwind sure didn't feel like one. More like a strong cross-wind. But again, there was nothing I could do about that at that point, so I just kept rolling. It was at this point that I started feeling pretty rough - I think a combination of my tight breathing and having not been patient enough in Bryan Park. And of course, it could also be just that I was at mile 8 of a half marathon. I just forged forward, trying to hold my rhythm and relax into it.
The last few miles felt awful. My plan had been to blow up at 12.5, but I had misjudged and blew up a bit too soon. However, as bad as I felt, I could tell that many ahead of me were struggling more, which gave me some people to reel in and pass. With about a mile to go, my coach yelled at me to go for it and I dug a bit more. But I had already gone to and emptied the well, and now I was just scraping the floor of it with a rusty butter knife.
But I managed to hang on somehow, and then we made the series of right turns and I had the ski slope finish in front of me. This was no longer about fitness or running prowess but about one's comfort level with being completely out of control. Fortunately, I have some experience with that from my horse riding days, so I just let 'er rip.
As I crossed the finish, I saw it ticking 1:24:3x, and I knew that I had just run a major PR - a great feeling.
Splits were: (note that I missed some mile markers)
Miles 1-2: 13:26 (6:43 pace)
Mile 3: 6:34
Miles 4-5: 12:48 (6:24 pace)
Mile 6: 6:26
Mile 7: 6:26
Mile 8: 6:30
Miles 9-10: 12:46 (6:23 pace)
Mile 11: 6:25
Mile 12: 6:22
Mile 13 plus the last .11: 6:38 (5:59 pace)
- I checked on Strava later, and noted that the "1:30" pacer (the same one I tucked behind for the first miles) finished in just over 89 minutes. After going out in the low 6:40s for the first 2 miles. That's not a good pacing job. In fact, I'd say that is an abysmal pacing job. If someone is targeting 90 minutes for a half, then it's almost certain that going out in the low 6:40s (especially on a slight uphill and into the wind) is going to wreck their race.
I think there's an assumption that if you're pacing 1:30, then you must beat that time, and beating it by a lot is much better than coming a few seconds over. It's similar to the mindset that results in some runners always straining to beat the target times in their workouts. I'd suggest just the opposite - I think most runners will benefit from a pacer that holds them slightly back and first, and whom they can surge past at the end. But going out even 5 seconds too fast, if your target time is on the edge of your current ability, can destroy your race.
- Wore my Vaporflies for this race, and earned myself a nice 80+ second PR. (85:43 to 84:22). But...before you give the credit to the shoe, it's important to note that I set my previous PR in the exact same shoes in Houston in January. So yeah, I think this PR goes to improved fitness, good weather, and a fast course, not magic shoes with springs in them. And since Houston was also a fast course in good weather, maybe this is all improved fitness.
- Speaking of the Vaporflies, they now have 150 miles on them, and still feel great. I actually like them a bit more now, because they're a bit less bouncy.
- Carried a handheld water bottle until mile 12, just because I always do. I'm so used to running with it that it doesn't slow me down. I only sipped from it once, and probably didn't even need to do so then. Also took an expresso GU on course, half at mile 5 and half at mile 8. I wonder if I might have fared better in the second half of the course with another GU. But I also think that the challenges in the second half of the race weren't about lack of fuel but about burning the candle a bit too much in Bryan Park.
- Speaking of overdoing the hills - this race was a good refresher for me as I look towards CIM - I was slightly too aggressive on the uphills here, and got away with it because a) this was a half marathon and b) we had the downhill finish. Neither of those will hold true at CIM, so I need to be much more patient there. I know, based on this race, that I'm in shape to break 3 hours. I just need to run patient and smart.