Richmond Half Marathon Stoke: Firsts

Just so we’re clear (and in case you actually read the full title to the post), no, I did not come in first. Rather, this past weekend’s Richmond Half represented a series of firsts for me:
*  First half marathon;
*  First time traveling to a road race;
*  First time having buddies at the start;
*  First time I didn’t need to use a port-o-potty at a race (before, during, or after); 
*  First time I forgot to have the Garmin ready to go at the start line;
*  First time with a bib that had my name pre-printed on it; and
* First time a stranger cheered me on by name, and it wasn’t because I was running next to someone also named Stephanie.
A year ago, I decided it was time to graduate from the 10-mile race distance and finally race a half marathon. After years of snickering envy when I walked by cars plastered with a 13.1 bumper sticker, I, too, now have one of those. Pretty rad.
The Transporter (so named for accompanying me across the country two years ago) and the Soigneur joined me in Richmond, the former as a runner and the latter as moral support and general soinguer duties. Usually before a race, I’m alone and in my own world, so when the Transporter asked whether I had any pre-race rituals, I said no. 
Apparently, I have weird pre-race rituals. Like waking up early and eating and digesting breakfast. 
The Transporter, on the other hand, took advantage of the hotel’s location 2 blocks from the starting line, and then promptly freaked out when the Soigneur, looking out the hotel window, said, “Hey? What are all those people doing?”
Remain calm. It’s the 8K. Which started half an hour before the half marathon. Yes. We were still in the hotel a half an hour before our start. 
The Transporter and I wended our way to the start, peeled off our layers, handed them to the Soinguer, and we were herded toward the start. 
In the midst of timing when to shed my throwaway layer, I forgot to get my Garmin going. This lead to a mild panic for the two blocks it took for the Garmin to find a signal, and then another few miles, before I figured out that I should just hit lap at the next mile marker. How I ever ran with a regular watch in the past is beyond me.
I went into this race with a very loose time goal. I knew that with my training, it was highly unlikely I’d run the race in under two hours. The McMillan calculator, based on my Army 10-Miler time, predicted a 2:04 finish. So I aimed for faster than 2:04 because I like to exceed expectations. My plan was to hold steady until 10 miles, and then drop the pace for the last 5K. 
Miles 1-2: ~19:21 
The Transporter and I ran these first couple of miles together. The time for these two miles is my best after-the-fact guess, given the late start on the clock. Once I lost my frame of reference for time, I improvised a new race plan: hold a pace for a 2:04 finish (9:29 minute miles) until I got to 10 miles, and then drop the pace to 9 minute miles for the last 5K, if I had any gas in the tank. I’d no idea whether I’d have any gas in the tank.
Mile 3: 9:14
Somewhere along mile 3, before we went up the first “hill” (aka, overpass) a woman wearing the same shirt as me ran by and said hello. I was trying to make up time that I thought I’d lost in the first two miles and worked on settling in on a pace.
Mile 4: 9:23
Mile 5: 9:30
I worked to settle into a sustainable pace during miles 4 and 5. By now I’d realized that my watch was somewhere between a tenth to two tenths of a mile off. 
I took a gel at the end of the 4th mile and rinsed it down early in the 5th mile with two sips of blue Powerade. I inadvertently waited until the end of the line to pick up a cup, and by then all they were giving out was Powerade. Gah.
Mile 6: 9:24
Mile 7: 9:18
All last week, I kept reminding myself that a 10K was not half of a half marathon. Not that it really mattered when I stepped onto the timing mat in Joseph Bryan Park because I had no independent idea of my time. I hit 10K at 59:08, apparently. I was also forced to take the outsides of a few turns in the park because of congestion, especially during some downhills.
Mile 8: 9:30
Mile 9: 9:17
I don’t really remember much of mile 8, other than I think it went into a residential neighborhood with cute homes. They gave out some gel at mile 8, and for about a quarter mile, my shoes stuck to the pavement like it was a frat basement. Not that I’ve ever run through a frat basement.
Mile 10: 9:27

At the end of mile 9, I took another gel. I walked while drinking water this time. The course now featured a lane marked by construction cones, for half marathoners. So my hips wouldn’t feel all off balance, I tried to run in the “center” of the road, which meant running as close as I could to the construction cones. I managed to stumble over a few. Awesome. 
Then it was time for the 5K fun run!
Mile 11: 8:56
Mile 12: 8:59
Mile 13: 8:22
For a split second, I contemplated running into a port-o-potty during the 11th mile. I’d been ignoring my guts, which had been doing mild somersaults since about mile 4. Then I figured if I just ran faster, I could just wait until the end. 
In mile 12, a spectator ran out to hug the woman in front of me. I’m all for enthusiastic spectators. But you know what? I have no idea how to run around you, especially when you run onto the course, stop to hug, and take up the inside of a turn. Also, I am oxygen deprived. I straight armed the spectator as she released her hug and ran back to the sidewalk. Mile 12 also lasted forever. I spent the bulk of the mile looking at street signs, searching for the turn that would lead me to the finish. 
It turns out it was “three turns and then your downhill finish,” as a woman called out in the last mile.
I love running downhill, even if it kills my quads. 
last 0.1: 7:04 pace

The finish was a surprisingly steep descent. I was with a pack of maybe 4 other women my size. We lengthened our strides and booked it down the hill together. The hill was the ultimate exercise in quick feet and steady core because I think the hill would have otherwise been really, really painful. Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever crossed a finish line this fast before. 
Finish: 2:02:05, average 9:19 pace. Coincidentally, that was the same pace that I ran the Army 10-Miler.
Post Mortem
I almost stepped in someone’s orange barf as I collected myself at the finish chute. And by “collect myself,” I mean that I myself was trying not to barf as the medical people told me to keep moving. Apparently one needs to be actively barfing, rather than merely keeled over, to have medical personnel ask assistance is required.
I’m particularly excited that I executed a race plan in part by feel, and I’m thrilled that my nutrition worked out and that I didn’t lose a lot of time taking gels/water. 
I made my way to the beer truck before I realized that the Soingeur had my ID and that the available beer was gross. The Transporter showed up after not long and so did the Soingeur, who had been at the finish line. Much love and gratitude to you two, for sharing this experience with me!

10 thoughts on “Richmond Half Marathon Stoke: Firsts

  1. Frat basement — YES, that explains it well. One of the miles in the marathon was like that too, and that's a perfect explanation of what it felt like.

    Congrats all the way around – great job!

  2. Congratulations! That's a huge accomplishment! And your splits are amazing. It's great that you ran such a controlled race and were able to speed up at the end. Nice job!

  3. Thanks, David! I can't imagine what that “frat basement” mile was like for the marathoners after the half marathoners went through.

    Many thanks for your dining recs, too!

  4. Thank you so much, Elizabeth! It was great to find that I still had gas in the tank for the last 5K, but the downhill finish definitely helped, too!

  5. Ha! I'm not-so-secretly contemplating the Annapolis half in a few weeks, but it depends on whether I think I can actually train in the next few weeks (and speed up). I'll keep you posted!

  6. I'm so happy to hear that your first half was such a great experience! That's a great time, and it's even better that you felt strong and happy during the race. Kudos for a strong training cycle—looking forward to whatever goal you choose to tackle next!

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