Thursday, November 18, 2010

Runner's World Challenge in Richmond

I had not planned on running 4 marathons in 2010; however, when I discovered earlier this year that Runner’s World magazine was holding a Runner’s World Challenge marathon in Richmond in November, and that it involved Bart Yasso, I just had to jump on board. I first met Bart at the NYC Marathon in 2009, and I have seen him several times since then. Bart is one of the most inspirational and encouraging people in the running world; he is known as the “Mayor of Running” in the USA. He also works for Runner’s World and has written a book called “Life on the Run.” The chance to participate in a marathon weekend with Bart was far too good to pass up. And I am sure glad I did it!

The Runner’s World Challenge in Richmond turned into something above and beyond anything I could have anticipated. I met teammates from around the country online via Facebook and Twitter. And then when my October marathon was over, I started getting involved with the Challenge team message boards. Many of the team members had been developing their friendships online for over a year, so I “joined the party” extremely late. However, everyone welcomed me with open arms and I felt totally included. By the time I made it to Richmond, I felt like a solid member of the team.

Meeting everyone at the shakeout run the day before the race was amazing. It was cool to recognize people from their online photos! There were so many hugs and smiles. It was really heartwarming how everyone came together. Friday was busy from 7:30am until 9:00pm: shakeout run, course tour, lunch, team meeting, and dinner. Then all of a sudden it was time to run a marathon. Being on the Challenge team provided us with a lot of perks. One of the greatest perks was having a warm and dry indoor space to wait in before the marathon. We had our own bathrooms, food, and drinks. We were able to walk right out to the start 5 minutes before the race started. Awesome!

I had been experiencing some really bad stomach problems for the two days prior to the marathon, and they did not go away on marathon morning. And besides that, Richmond was my fourth marathon of the year. And I had just run a PR marathon 5 weeks before. Given all of this, I was just hoping to finish before they closed the course at 7 hours. I ended up running with my teammate Amy for most of the first 6 miles or so. At the very beginning we were with teammate Colleen and then when she left us we caught up with teammate Chris. It was really cool to run with teammates. Amy was dealing with back pain and had hoped to break a total time of 5:30, so I thought it would be good to stick with her. But eventually she and Chris became too fast for me so I dropped back. I was sorry to see them go but I didn’t want to run too fast in the early miles. For most of the rest of the marathon, I didn’t run with anyone in particular, but I was surrounded by plenty of people.

My motivation, stomach issues, and fatigue all seemed the worst in the first 9 or so miles. But as the race progressed, I felt a little better. The course was lined with tons of spectators, bands, DJs, cheerleaders, etc. I thought I preferred smaller quiet marathons but Richmond showed me that it can be really fun to see so many people on the sidelines. I stopped to dance at some of the music stops, and I high-fived so many spectators (mostly children). Interacting with the crowd kept me going. It was much warmer and sunnier than I would have preferred, but I actually felt okay. There were a few stretches with no shade that were tough, but overall I was okay.

At the halfway mark I noticed that my time was around 2:24 or so. I figured that even if I walked a bit in the second half I might still get under 5 hours. But to be honest, I really didn’t care what my time was. I was just so grateful to be out there and to be a part of the Challenge team. It felt so good not to worry about pace! I just relaxed and enjoyed the experience. This strategy paid off, as I was feeling pretty good all the way to the finish line. I didn’t end up walking very much in the last 5 miles. The finish line is at the bottom of a hill, so I was able to fly down that finish. For the first time, I raised my hands in the air at the finish of a marathon, and jubilantly crossed that finish line with a big smile. The best part was seeing Bart straight ahead and getting a hug from him. Then I turned around and noticed teammates Cintia and David Bock finishing just behind me. That made it even better! I also got to see Bart cheering for us at mile 4.5 and mile 16. That was awesome!

The Challenge Team had its own special area in the hotel at the finish, and we got our own masseuse, food, drinks, etc. And when each one of us walked in after finishing, we received a huge applause from those already in the room. That was awesome! Lots of hugs were exchanged, and lots of pictures were taken. It was a huge celebration of an amazing accomplishment and a wonderful team experience. I made friends for life, and I know that we will see each other again soon. And in fact we are talking about finding a race to do together again next year, maybe even a relay race. All I know is that I will definitely keep in touch with my teammates and I have made some new friends. My finish time (4:50:41) ended up being my second fastest ever but to be honest the experience of the marathon with the team was so much more memorable.

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