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What do you do when you're coming down with a cold the night before your half marathon race? PR of course!
Don't sleep, don't eat, don't feel mentally prepared, but still go out there and run like there's no tomorrow. Sounds about right.
(And I really did run like there was no tomorrow since I've completed decimated my body and immune system and have been holed up on the couch all day.)
Unlike the other races I've run the Richmond half marathon is on Saturday, not Sunday, so I took off work on Friday with McCrae and we drove up to Virginia. All the light through the trees, the long grey divided highways through hardwood forests in a blaze of yellow, gold, and red, and hours of the radio gently crowing from speakers was a beautiful start to the weekend, even if my head was starting to feel fuzzy.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
I'd never been to Richmond before, so we made a point to see a few of the sights. I'm a sucker for art, so it was off to the Richmond Museum of Fine Art where I geeked out for hours among Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, and so many more. The Faberge eggs were particularly popular among visitors, but I was sucked into the European gallery and the African, Native American, and south Asian exhibits.
With the race coming up I was famished, so we checked out Supper, a restaurant specializing good American eats. The NY Times raved about it. The Travel Channel's "Food Paradise" raved about it. My friend who lives in Richmond raved about it, and now I'm raving about it. Farm to table, artisan, hipster, rustic industrial - it's the zeitgeist of Southern hip and comfort food. Ginger sweet tea, farm to table meat sampler, huge (local!) salads, shaved and pulled pork that will make you squeal (sorry, pig), thoughtful vegetarian and allergy-conscious dishes, delicious mustard, craft Virginia brews, and yeah, Mason jar glasses. What else would you expect? Maybe some Edison light bulbs? (Surprise, they're on the patio!)
The night was still young after good eats at Supper so we moseyed over to The Veil, a brewery near Supper that's hip and industrial and boasts good beer that you can't get in NC. With cool warehouse-style decor, wide open social space, zebra and goat taxidermy in just enough amounts to be novel without being creepy, and some pretty sweet signs over the long bar and on the wall.
Warning: do not enter The Veil if you have a fear of hipsters or unironic plaid flannel.
Saturday - The Important Stuff
Who needs sleep before a race? Who needs to be able to breathe or do anything useful for a half marathon? Not this woman!
My start wave wasn't until 7:38am so I had plenty of time to wake up and get to the start line, which is good because traffic was crazy. Unlike most other runners I didn't stay in a hotel downtown near a start line; I had an awesome friend who let me stay at his place, but that meant navigating road closures and traffic to get to the start line. The good news with the later start time at least was I didn't have to wake up at 5am to get the starting line - and I wasn't late to the point I had to sprint to the start (another one in the win column!)
While waiting for the start in my corral I found some Fleet Feet runners and we huddled in the cold morning in old sweatshirts, paper jackets, and bathrobes to be discarded after the start (Richmond organizers pick up discarded clothes, launder them, and donate them to homeless shelters so it's totally alright). I however missed the memo on the "pick-up-clothes-and-donate-to-homeless-shelters" bit though, so I was the crazy lady who showed up with shorts, a tshirt, and throwaway gloves. Mmmm cold weather starts.
I was also the crazy person with the hydration belt*, because after 2 other half marathons running out of water at critical aid stations, I don't care if the event has 200 participants or 20,000 and is the fanciest race ever - I'm bringing my water belt.
But being half naked and carrying a water belt doesn't matter when you PR!
The 8K, half marathon, and marathon races all started on different parallel blocks and different times - starting with the 8K, then the half marathon waves, and then the marathon waves. My wave just happened to work out so that we saw the elite runners come zipping along the street on the other side of the divider. Is it great seeing the elites up close and in person, or is it soul-sucking to realize how slow you are? Probably a little bit of both.
The route itself was easy as expected. We meandered through some urban blocks, some residential areas, and a nice park with enough foliage coverage for those with a GI emergency who couldn't make it to the next round of port-a-potties. Yeah, runner paradise.
We only had a few hills but I was killing it up the hills. All the training in Chapel HILL (thanks, Laurel Hill and Hamburger Hill) meant I was ready to dig in and push up the small hills and keep trucking. The rest of the time I fixated on other runners - their wardrobe choices, their music choices, their small talk that kept them going along hard miles - and the gorgeous colonial houses with piles of leaves on the curb that just begged to be jumped into (I missed the part where some friends actually did stop and jump into some leaves), and dodged potholes. And while some folks enjoyed the long flat expanses along broad boulevards, I actually got a little bored on the straightaways.
The crowd was pretty solid - one of the best I've seen, sure - with some good posters and some unofficial aid stations around mile 10 or so with free Coke and beer. I'm the type of person who doesn't find beer very refreshing during or after a run, but some folks loved it.
Finally we returned to the urban city center and then booked down the hill to the river and the finish line on Brown's Island. What a downhill finish! The last half mile or so simply dropped over the edge and it was down down down to the river. I finished fast, as that is the only way I could finish - one foot after another to keep myself from face-planting on the steep incline. (I hear face-planting is more common than you'd think.)
There was some good swag at the finish line - a respectable race medal (not too big and blingy like some races are wont to provide like they're making up for something with the medal size), a cozy fleece blanket, and a cap. The vibes were pretty good at the finish line - celebrations, a PR bell, Boston qualifier parties, massages, pizza, bananas, the usual - but I was tired and happy to head back to the house for a much-needed shower.
With a final time of 2:10:05 I CRUSHED my last PR of 2:15! And this is a huge improvement over my very first half marathon two years ago when I finished in 2:26. Four half marathon races, four different PRs. This will probably be my last "easy" PR. For all my other races it's been relatively easy to crush my last PR and build on my fitness, but this may be the last time I can easily pass my PR. The tank wasn't quite empty for this race, but it was certainly low. We'll see how well I can keep building fitness over the next couple years - It's time to start chasing that 2:00 threshold!
Until then I'm trying not to be too miserable on the couch with my sore muscles and awful head cold. The road to recovery is full of soup and juice. And foam rolling. Dang it, foam rolling.
Yes, Richmond is fast and flat. It's a gorgeous run through autumn boulevards with some great things to see before and after the race. I only saw a fraction of Richmond (we finished up at The Answer brewpub and Mekong for some celebratory Vietnamese and craft beer), but we missed out on a bunch of other exciting sights like Ardent Craft Ales, Triple Crossing Brewing, a few cideries, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, the John Marshall House, the Edgar Allan Poe museum, various activities along the river, and tons of great restaurants. (Not to mention some Civil War history museums if that's something you're into.) I recommend this race to anyone considering it for a fun PR (or, as some friends put it, a "PR in fun!").
And while I'm recovering from the race and my head cold on my couch I'll start looking for the next big race!