Editor’s note from Aaron: I’m writing about this race in 2017 recalling what I can and thinking back about the details 5 years ago. Some details are a little hazy (it comes with age!).
Since adopting a fit and healthy lifestyle after graduating from college in 2002, I’ve gone through a variety of training from powerlifting, Crossfit, and Navy SEAL style workouts to find a sport or method that resonates with me. In early 2012 I was doing more and more running as part of a workout regiment known as SEALFIT. During one of these runs I decided to see how far I could go one day and wound up reaching a distance of 12 miles. I mentioned this to my business partner and he was impressed saying that it was “almost a half marathon”.
That small bit of dialogue got me thinking about running a full marathon. It was something I had never dreamed of doing, but upon realizing I was almost running a half-marathon as part of my training, a full marathon seemed like a very realistic goal. I did a search of marathons close to my home town of Winchester, Virginia and found the Anthem Richmond Marathon, pegged as “America’s Friendliest Marathon”. It was six months away, so I signed up and started figuring out how to go about training for a 26.2 mile run. My goal was to finish the race with an added bonus goal of trying to run the marathon in under 4 hours.
In the months leading up to the marathon I trained 5 days out of the week doing all the required runs of a beginner marathon plan. The longest run I did during my training was 18 miles (even though a 20 mile run was prescribed) as at the time I was going through a lot of major events in life and found myself pressed for time many mornings. This would turn out to be a major mistake on my part which affected me during the actual race.
The Marathon Atmosphere Experience
Christie and I made the joint decision that I would go to Richmond solo to run the race. Corinne and Caitlin were very young at the time so having them down in the city waiting around for 4-5 hours for Daddy to finish a race wasn’t something we wanted to put them through. So the day before the race I drove down in the early afternoon where I picked up my race packet and checked into my hotel. Upon check-in I discovered that my hotel room was a mess. The cleaning staff had not finished and there were linens, bed spreads, and trash bags strewn about the room. I talked with the front desk and the hotel was at capacity. They said the only other option was a smoking room they had left. As they had no idea when the room would be cleaned, I begrudgingly took the smoking room. To be frank it was horrible. The room smelt of cigarettes and ash trays, but I did my best to try and get some sleep which was not much.
Having never been to a marathon before I had no idea what to expect at the race. With the race starting at 8 a.m. and not wanting to be late, I got up around 5 a.m., ate a breakfast bar, got dressed, and made my way to downtown Richmond which was a short drive of 20 minutes away. The weather that morning was in the low 40s but was to warm up to the 60s by the race’s end, so I wore a long sleeve runners shirt and winter cap to keep my ears warm.
I parked on the outskirts of where the race was to begin and could already see dozens of other runners walking along the streets to where I assumed was the starting point. I followed the droves of runners and came upon a massive crowd, typical for standard marathons but completely shocking to me at the time. I remember thinking “Wow, this is a ton of runners. How will we ever get moving?”. After taking a quick restroom break, I joined the crowd by the starting line close to the 4 hour pacing group and could not believe how many people there were. After waiting around for 30 minutes in the thick of the crowd the starting gun sounded and the marathon had begun. It was fascinating how the race started as it took 20-30 seconds until the group I was with started running due to the amount of people lined up ahead of us.
Running My First Marathon
The race course was very scenic and fairly flat with the occasional hill. It ran through downtown Richmond, into the close by suburbs, over a bridge crossing the James River, around Forest Hill Park, back across the river, in and around Virginia Commonwealth University, and returning to downtown Richmond where the finish line was located.
I certainly understood why they called it “America’s Friendliest Marathon”. There was very energetic and positive crowd support through almost the entire race. People cheering on the runners, family members and friends holding up signs (many of which were very witty and took your mind off of the run), and live music were at many of the mile markers.
As for my run itself the first half of the race was great. I chose to purposely not wear a timing watch as I wanted to run the race on “feel”, but knew I was keeping a decent pace. Around the half-way point I still felt strong and knew it was half done. By mile 18 into 19 I knew I had run further than I ever had before and was feeling confident. Then mile 20 hit.
This is where I wished I would have had one or two 20 mile runs under my belt during my training. By this time the temps had risen into the 50s and I was now carrying my winter cap instead of wearing it. I was beginning to feel slow and sluggish and my legs were starting to hurt. The water I was sipping at each break area seemed to do nothing so for the first time ever while running I took a swig of gatorade and grabbed a power gel to eat. It helped a bit but I started to feel dizzy and felt like walking. However I told myself to keep pushing and take it 1 mile at a time. I could see other runners around me were fighting to break through the mental wall as well, and that gave me a bit more confidence and energy.
The Final Miles and Finish Line
The 4 hour pace group was just ahead of me as we entered the final two miles. I tried to keep their pace but my legs were hurting really bad at this point, so I lost track of the pacing group. In my mind I wanted the race to end right now as I was in a lot of pain. I slugged through mile 25 and was motivated to finish strong through mile 26 being so close to the finish. Running downhill to end the race I crossed the finish line with a time of 4:01:20. That didn’t matter to me at the moment as my legs were staring to cramp up, and I was doing my best to hobble through the post race crowd to find somewhere to collapse.
The race staff put a finisher’s medal around my neck and I made my way to a tent to grab a gatorade and bagel. I recall drinking the entire mid-sized bottle of gatorade in a few seconds and scarfing down the bagel shortly after. I collapsed to the ground (another beginner mistake), and laid there in pain. Knowing what I know now I should of kept walking around to avoid cramping, but again since I did not run as far as my training had called for, my body was not used to a long run like this and my legs cramped up severely. I managed to place a phone call to Christie telling her I had survived and was hurting pretty bad. At this point I was wondering if I could even make it to the car to drive myself home.
Other runners around me were in some similar pain and I made conversation with an older gentleman nearby. After 20 minutes or so my legs began to loosen up to the point where I could stand up. Then I hobbled back to my car taking a good while to walk a half mile to where I was parked and called Christie again telling her I would be able to make the three hour drive home. My legs felt drained but my appetite remained, so I made the point of stopping at a Perkins restaurant on the way home and treating myself to a big post-race afternoon breakfast.
One Goal Achieved, Another Goal to Train For
I was dissapointed that I did not get a time of under 4 hours, but was proud that I never stopped to walk once during the race. I knew the sub-4 hour goal would be something to achieve another time. I also learned a lot from my mistakes such as to have a 20 mile run or two under your belt prior to a first marathon, fuel properly during the race (and work that into your training too), and to definitely keep moving after the race is over to help your legs stay loose and not cramp up as bad as mine did.
Despite my mistakes the experience at the Anthem Richmond Marathon was a fantastic one for my first race of 26.2 miles. It is truly a friendly race and I would recommend it to anyone looking to add a marathon to their list of life goals.
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.