Monday, April 2, 2012

Race Report: Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10k

Each year that I run the Monument Avenue 10k, I am reminded of just how far I have come. Because it was my first race and it is the only race I've done every year, it is inevitably the one that I use to measure my progress.

The first year I completed in 1:07:30. I had to stop to walk at mile 5. By the time I got to the finish I my arches were killing me and I was so tired it was all I could do to jog across the line.

Last year, I did significantly better, finishing in 56:55 (my 10k PR). I remember still feeling pretty miserable near the end and I don't think I walked although I did slow significantly during mile 4 and 5.

This year, I surprised myself with a new PR - 53:22! Shaving 3:33 from my previous 10k PR. Looks like all of that speed work may be paying off after all.

Despite the PR, I unfortunately must report that this year the Monument Avenue 10k disappointed me. It was a disaster from the beginning, as you will see. Remember how I have explained that I am a planner extraordinaire and that I don't react well when things don't work according to my plans? Well... nothing  about this race experience went according to plan.

Expo/Packet Pick Up - C

This is the expo/packet pick up experience that has made me hate the whole notion of packet pick up. Every single time I go, no matter what time of day, this expo is an absolute zoo. This year, two of co-workers and I went together on the first hour of the first day of pick up and it was still a frustrating and crowded experience. We heard one man remark that he felt like a salmon swimming against a current - which might just be the best way to describe this experience.

The expo is held in the Arthur Ashe Center, which I think is just too small for the 40,000+ people it has to serve for this event. But there really isn't a venue in Richmond that is bigger and has ample free parking too.

Bib pick up
I had to pick up 3 bibs today: Husband's, BFF's, and my own. Of course the tables for my waves seemed to have the longest lines. The volunteers were still only 15 minutes into this experience, so they weren't quite running like clockwork yet. I had to tell the girl at my wave table my bib number 4 times. She found it and sheepishly says, "I'm not very good at remembering numbers." "You will be by the end of today," I told her before going to stand in another line 6 people deep to pick up Husband's bib.

15 minutes later, we moved into the next section - race merch. This year I was contemplating spending money here because I do love the Running Man logo shirts...

....but I was so annoyed after the bib pick up that I didn't really feel like giving them any more of my money. Besides, I had a specific goal in mind for this expo: to get a 13.1 sticker for my car and find some black arm warmers for the race.

After race merch, we emerged into the expo, which was an absolute zoo. I thought that the Shamrock expo was crowded, but it doesn't hold a candle to this one.

After making our way through the crowds of people, I finally found the One More Mile apparel booth and got my 13.1 sticker and some great arm warmers (you'll see them later).

40 minutes into our pick up, we finally got our race tees, which are so horrifically ugly that I'm not even going to post a picture of them here. Of course each person I was picking up for had requested a different sized tee, so I had to wait in 3 separate lines. Again.

Expo. Fail.

Race Day Arrival/Parking/Start Area - D

For two years, I have had no trouble parking and getting to the start line in time. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Then, this year happened. I'll take part of the blame for this; I got onto the event website on Friday evening to try to see about road closures and what I should be aware of. The problem was, I was having trouble finding detailed information about parking and street closures. So I just gave up and decided to do what I have done before.

Big mistake, because this year they must have really changed around road closures because we could not get where I had planned to park in the way that I had planned on going. We got there eventually, but in a round-about fashion that ended up wasting a good 20 minutes.

It also screwed up my buddy Marcey big time. She called me, apologizing (and maybe cussing) profusely explaining that she couldn't get to her planned parking spot either and that she was worried that she wouldn't be able to meet me at our pre-arranged time and place before the race started.

In the meantime, our group (Husband, BFF, BFF's Husband) walked about 1/2 mile to Monroe Park, the start/finish festival area. It wasn't too terribly crowded when we got there around 8:00 am.

We found the port-o-johns, which were plentiful, clean, and had no lines.

And took some pre-race photos.

BFF and I. She's almost 6' tall, I'm 5'2". I stand on tip toes, she stoops.

Showing off my One More Mile Arm Warmers:
"I thought they said rum"

Race Day Outfit (toe to head)
Brooks Ravenna 2
Lululemon Turbo Run Shorts in Ghost Herringbone
Lululemon Energy Bra in Black 

After photos we started to walk toward the spot that I had planned on meeting up with Marcey, Prabir, and possible one of my co-workers. As we made our way through Monroe Park, it started to spit rain. Not cool.

As soon as we got to the meet up spot, Marcey called me with the good news and the terrible news. The good: she had finally found a parking spot (I had directed her to where we ended up). The bad: She had been so flustered from the whole getting-to-parking-experience that after she parked, she had gotten out of the car and then locked her keys into the car ... while it was still running. I felt so terrible for her, but she was her wonderful self as always and just said, "It's obviously not my day - you run without me and do good!"

After Marcey's call we stuck around the meet up spot, waiting for Prabir. We stretched while BFF's Husband (henceforth known as BH) thought he would be funny by taking pictures of us in mid-stretch.

This was my favorite since we are all in different positions.
My phone buzzed again and this time it was Prabir... who was running late. By now we needed to start moving to our starting corral, so the chances of us being able to meet up were pretty much nil, so we left the meet up spot and walking (in the rain) to the start line.

40,000 people ran the race this year, so there are what seems like 5845042 corrals that kind of pop up as the rolling start progresses. When we got to the start area, our corral hadn't popped up yet and I was confused - I don't remember that ever happening before.

Eventually our corral flag popped up and we went to join the other 2000 people (or so it seemed) assigned to corral MA. By now it was raining at what seemed like a pretty good clip and I was feeling pretty miserable about how the whole morning was going up to this point.

So, because of parking calamities (even for a 3rd time participant and Richmond-area resident), running buddy calamities, and corral confusion, I'm giving race day arrival/parking/start line a big fat D. It was just not the smooth, easy experience that I had had for the previous two years, and it made me very irritable. Not how you want to start a race.

Course - A+
 The course is my most favorite thing about this race. I love the whole course experience so much that it is why I try to encourage people to make this their first race or, if it's not their first, to at least come experience it.

The Good
  • Pretty much flat (there is a barely noticeable incline in miles 3 and 4 but really it is just so shallow that I don't even think it counts).
  • Beautiful scenery. Even though I run Monument Avenue week after week, it never gets old. The beautiful homes, manicured lawns, flowering trees, Monuments, churches - I just love everything about it.
  • On course entertainment, number of "fans" and cheering groups simply blows every other race I've ever done out of the water. The grassy median (a danger zone, if you'll remember) is a great place for spectators, bands, and organized cheer groups. Some of my favorites were the Lululemon cheer group (mile 3) and the Richmond Tai Chi folks. They look so beautiful and relaxed that I wanted to jump off of the course and join them. I have a really good time getting high fives and interacting with the spirit groups during this race. This is definitely a race where you want to leave the iPod at home because you will have a better time if you take part in all the hoopla around you. I promise.
  • Water and port-o-johns are plentiful. I think there are 3 or 4 water stops and just as many port-o-johns. To be honest I really wasn't paying attention.
  • People watching for this course is another great distraction. There are such a wide variety of participants, plus the costume contest runners, plus the course doubles back on itself so there is basically a never-ending source of distraction all around you. I love to check out outfits, read shirts, and just take it all in.
  • Yes, these people RAN in this "costume" - The Magic School Bus
    They got 2nd place in the costume contest.

    This was my favorite - a beer keg surrounded by beer fraus. Loved it.
    Taken during mile 3.
  • The entire course is paved and on a 4 lane street. Although it can be crowded, I kind of have fun ducking and dodging in between people (imagine you're a NASCAR driver or something).
During Mile 5 - love this lady's shirt: "Run Like a Mother"
Also gives you a sense of crowding and cobbled street surface.

The Bad

I honestly can't say there is anything BAD about this course. All I would say is:
  • It gets a little crowded.
  • Miles 3 and 4 aren't the most scenic (but still 100 times better than the Virginia is for Lovers 14k or the Shamrock Half).
  • A good portion is on cobbled streets, which some people hate. It doesn't bother me at all... I really don't even notice when the changeover happens.
Finish - C

This year I was a little irritated at the finish line. The chute here is very short and they spit you out immediately into the grassy Monroe Park area, which was just a complete zoo by the time I finished. Not to mention all of the "grass" was really slippery mud thanks to 40,000 people stomping all over it in the rain.

I got a bottle of water but did not feel like fighting the crowds of finishing runners and spectators to try to find any food. I feel like this has been better managed in past years, but maybe I'm imagining that. Basically it was such a crowded mess that I wanted to get out of the area of congestion as soon as possible.

I called BH, we found each other and then walked back up the course a little bit to stand and wait for BFF to cross the line. Then we waited for Husband, who walked most of the course and did not cross until almost 40 minutes after I did.

Here's a photo from our spot as spectators, about 50 yards from the finish line:

I'm giving the finish area a C because of the crowds and the not-readily-available post-race food. I'm sure if I had wanted to keep walking around with wet, sweaty mobs I could have found the food, but I was not feeling it.

And I know it would add to the cost of the race, but come on  Monument Avenue 10k - you guys should really spring for medals. There could be some really beautiful Monument-Avenue-inspired designs.

Overall Grade - C

It pains me to give this race a C because usually it is such a wonderful experience. I talked to some other people who didn't think that it was any different this year than in the past... but not for me. From the weird road closures to the lack of a start corral to the messy chute, I just did not think this race was as well organized as usual. Of course I'm sure the rain had something to do with it. And the overall bad morning that I personally had.

At first I thought maybe all of the problems I personally experienced were the result of them allowing too many participants... but then I read yesterday that the final tally this year had actually been about 1,000 fewer people. Still not really sure what the deal was in the morning. I just know it was a mess.

Personal Performance - A

For myself, I am impressed with how well I performed given that pretty much nothing went as planned. Generally when that happens, my mental state is a mess and we all know that running is 90% mental. Add in the rain, the fact that my planned pacer (Prabir) was not with me, and my general feelings of irritation and you get a recipe for disaster.

Yet somehow I managed to pull out a major PR - a 53:22! My pipe dream goal had been to clock in under 55:00 and somehow I managed to better that by almost 2 full minutes with nothing to help me but my own two legs and determination. Better yet, this time is a a whole 3 minutes 33 seconds better than my former 10k PR.

Mile 1 was a warm up spent with BFF, then I took off...

It's obvious that all of the miles I logged while training for the half helped me out big time. I felt pretty great for the duration of the run - I was hooting and hollering and cheering and smiling for the whole thing. When I compare that to how miserable I felt last year and my first year, it makes me feel like I have really accomplished a lot.

I'm also really proud of BFF, who had her own PR of 1:05:54. When she crossed the finish line I thought she looked strong and happy (not like she was going to die or throw up - a look I saw on the faces of many others).

As for Prabir, he eventually made it to the race, starting one wave behind us in MB. He claims he was looking for me frantically for the first two miles of the race. He must not have been looking hard because the speed demon ended up finsihing with a 50:57 (meaning he most definitely passed me somewhere along the way).

After we collected Husband, the three of us met Prabir at my favorite local coffee shop, Lift, which was just a few blocks from the finish. After downing delicious coffee and sandwiches, we chatted and played an invigorating game of Trouble - because who doesn't  love Trouble??

And the winner was....
Husband! He may have been the last of our group to finish the 10k,
but he kicked our butts in Trouble.
After Trouble we collected ourselves and headed home for much needed showers.

Anybody else run the 10k this weekend?
How did you do?
Did you think event organization was a little lacking?


  1. Congrats on the new PR! This is definitely a race I want to run someday, though I don't know if I'd be up for the crowds more than once.

    1. Thanks Allison, and congrats to you on the 10 miler! I'm glad you did better than you thought you would.

      Would you recommend that race? Was the course different (hopefully more scenic?) than the Army 10 Miler? I did not enjoy that race at all and was hoping Cherry Blossom would be better.

  2. Yay, another Richmond runner! I ran this race too, and it was my first 10k. Obviously I haven't experienced previous years' races, but it seemed pretty organized to me. As a new runner, my goal time was 1:15 and I finished in 1:12 so I was happy. Congrats on your PR, you're fast!!

    1. And another Kathryn! Nice to meet you! That's a great first timer finish, you should be proud.