Billing itself as America’s friendliest marathon, the Richmond race definitely lives up to its reputation. It’s very well-organized and a good choice for a Veteran’s Day weekend race. Usually on this holiday I do a double, with the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, GA, followed by the Peachtree City 50K, a two hour drive away. But since the Richmond Marathon had been on my bucket list for awhile, I decided this year to opt for Virginia instead of Georgia – and another chance to check off a ‘must-do’ race.
I left Florida early Friday morning for the two short flights that would take me to Richmond. The easiest way to get from the airport to my downtown hotel, the Marriott, was by taxi, a brief 15 minute ride. My room was ready so I quickly deposited my luggage, grabbed my wallet, phone, and race folder, and headed to the Omni Hotel, a 15 minute walk from the Marriott. The Omni was the host hotel and shuttle buses left every 20 minutes for the Arthur Ashe Center, site of the race expo. There was no way to walk to the expo (too far and on major highways) so it was important that the shuttles run dependably. Fortunately, they did, and a bus was waiting right outside the Omni entrance.
The expo was easy to navigate. Since I already knew my bib number (it had been emailed to me right before I left home), I waited just a few minutes at the packet pickup to get my bib with chip on the back. Next I made my way to the goody bag and tee shirt counter. The bag itself was an attractive one, not just a plastic sack, but except for an attractive 2013 calendar, there were no real goodies inside – just some coupons for local merchants. However, also included in the offerings was an informative booklet with maps of the marathon course as well as the other two races that took place the same day, an 8K and a half marathon. These latter races began at 7:00 and 7:30 am respectively (the marathon did not start until 8 am) and, while all 3 races began on Broad Street downtown, they parted ways early on. The race shirt was a long-sleeved tech number, black with an artistic rendering of the Richmond Skyline on the front. The medium I had requested was way too large but I had no trouble exchanging it for a small at the special table set up for shirt exchanges. It’s always hard to predict what size shirt to request when registering for a racel; if I choose small, the shirt invariably turns out to be doll-sized, while medium is often meant for a man, and a husky one at that, so I am always grateful when race volunteers are willing to let me exchange for a different size. At this race, the volunteer cheerfully suggested I try on a small and extra-small just to be sure.
After getting all the essentials, I was ready to do some browsing at the expo booths. There were quite a few Richmond marathon branded items plus several tables selling runner paraphernalia, energy bars, and such. I spent some time looking at everything and then headed back to the shuttle bus stop to start getting ready for tomorrow’s race. Had I arrived earlier, I could have signed up for a tour of the course but all the slots for later tours were already spoken for. As it turned out, a course tour wasn’t really necessary (if the course is very confusing, I like to be prepared in advance) but on this course it was unlikely that I (or anyone else) would get lost.
I caught the shuttle bus back to the Omni. Since the bus stopped right by my hotel on its way to the Omni, I asked the bus driver if he could let me off at that corner and he kindly complied. Back in my room, I began my pre-race preparations, setting out my clothes and pinning my bib to my vest. An early meal and I was ready for bed, anxious for the next day to begin. My nerves were pretty calm that evening but the next morning I began to have my usual pre-race jitters. I think I changed my clothes 3 or 4 times before finally deciding to dress in layers but leaving off my warmest clothes. Temps were in the mid-30’s to start but were supposed to warm up to the upper 60’s, so I wore my jacket and mittens with hand warmers but after about an hour I had to tie my jacket around my waist and pin my mittens to the inside of my jacket.
At 7 am I could watch the 8K participants run up Broad Street right past my window – neat! Around 7:15, I headed downstairs the hotel and followed a group of racers to the start. Some of them turned out to be Marathon Maniacs so we walked together to the spot in front of the Governor’s Mansion for a photo shoot with some other Maniacs. Then everyone left to find a spot in one of the 4 corrals. I was in #4, naturally, but the corrals were not strictly monitored. Everything was pretty loose and flexible, a nice change from the rigid enforcement and multiple corrals of much larger races.
It took me 7 minutes to cross the start line. People quickly spread out along the wide avenue (so that’s why they call it ‘Broad’ Street!) and I tried to find a good pace. Because it was so cold, my muscles were tight and it took several miles before I could feel my legs and feet. After that I managed to keep to an enjoyable steady pace. I didn’t see any course markings or signs (except for mile markers) but there were volunteers at every intersection and lots of people ahead of and behind me. I was not worried about getting lost, and since that is one of my biggest concerns during a race, I was able to really start to relax and appreciate the scenery. When I was in New Hampshire several weeks ago for the Ghost Train Trail Ultra, the leaves had already fallen from the trees (and covered the trail and the many roots!). Here in Virginia, the trees still had their colorful leaves and I enjoyed the spectacular fall colors.
Probably the best thing about this race is the course itself. It travels through attractive neighborhoods, small city centers, and – best of all – crosses the James River twice, first on the Huguenot Road bridge linking River Road to Riverside Drive, a beautiful area, and then across the Lee Bridge back to downtown Richmond, with the skyline of the city in the distance. As a walker who likes to run ONLY downhill (and then only when my legs are fresh and my hamstrings not cramping), I appreciated the many downhills in this race, at the beginning, middle, and end. I’m not sure how there could be so many descents without the accompanying uphills but that’s how it seemed to me and I was happy about it.
As I crossed the finish line, my name was announced and I was given a bottle of water and my medal. Food was minimal but there were enough bananas and bagels for back-of-the-packers like myself. A shuttle bus took finishers to the start line area and I took a seat on one that was getting ready to leave. My chip time was 5:43 and I placed 5th out of 11 women in my age group. Hooray!
Back in my room, I showered and changed, heard the final results of the Gator game (they won but not until the final minutes), and then called home. So far, a pretty darn good day. However, from this point on my adventure took a not-so-great turn. I desperately wanted my post-race nap. However, the people in the room next to mine decided they wanted to party. A lot. Very loudly. Bunches of them. With lots of loud conversation and even louder music. It was like trying to sleep at a frat party. I decided to go down to the lobby and ask if I could change my room, preferably to one on a quieter floor. Unfortunately, the hotel was booked solid and there was no other room available. Turns out we had been invaded by a contingent of Marines who were having several major events at the hotel and in the city. I told the front desk that I would bring my book to the lobby and try to wait out my neighbors until they left for dinner or another party. And I did. I read on a comfortable chair in the lobby until my eyes started to close and I fell asleep.
Around 7:15 pm a security guard woke me. “You can’t sleep in the lobby, sorry, you must go to your room.” I told him I really REALLY wanted to go to my room and sleep but there was a noisy party next door to me making it impossible. He said, “show me,” so I did. We took the elevator up to my floor and as we turned down my corridor, we could hear the ruckus. It was even louder than before. The security guard called on his radio for backup and went to confront the Marines and their dates in the room next to mine. Amazingly, several of the soldiers began to argue with the guard in a confrontational manner, sounding more like irascible teenagers than adults.
The hotel manager and another security guard arrived. They reiterated that the hotel has a ‘no-party’ policy in place and that only the people who had reserved the room should be in the room. All others were to go to their own rooms or the lobby area. I couldn’t believe how rude and impudent the soldiers were to the hotel staff (and indirectly to me). As a person who spent most of her professional career working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, I was embarrassed and ashamed by the behavior of these young men. On the other hand, I really appreciated the efforts of security and the rest of the hotel staff, who did their best to get me a decent night’s rest.
I was finally able to get some sleep, but at 2 am another contigent of partygoers entered the same room and began to play some mind-numbing bass ‘music’ – it woke me up and gave me a pounding headache. I dressed and went back downstairs, figuring I could read and wait it out until 3 am when my alarm would have woken me anyway. I had an early flight (thank goodness) so I needed to leave by 4 am. But TJ, the head of security, saw me and asked if there was more trouble upstairs. I said yes and he went back up to square things once again. So, while I had a great time during the race itself, my memories of Richmond will be clouded by this unfortunate escapade.
On the topic of the race itself (which, after all, is the real point of this blog) – kudos to the race organizers for putting on a wonderful race. Walkers like myself will appreciate the 7 hour time limit, the casual atmosphere, and friendly volunteers and spectators. Aid stations were plentiful, especially in the last 8 miles, and all offered water and Powerade. A couple of stations had wet towels which felt really good as the temperature rose to the upper 60’s. There were bands and music and cheering sections – all added to the positive atmosphere of this race.