Friday, November 14, 2014

My Sensei's Richmond Marathon Tips

If you follow me, you know who my Sensei is - Kit. First, I love Kit's name. I remember when he first introduced himself to Greg and I on a run. I'm pretty sure he said his name was Chris. But then we kept hearing people call him Kit. For about the next two weeks Greg and I debated and tried to figure out which he preferred. Finally, I decided enough was enough and asked him "So are you Kit or Chris??"

He's Kit. Mystery solved.

But soon after that, he became not Kit or Chris, but Sensei. You see, Kit is a quiet guy - the type who listens a lot, processes, thinks, and then only opens his mouth when he has something to say that will really contribute to a conversation. He doesn't just talk to talk. When Kit says something, it's gonna be wise. Or funny. Every time.

Paired with his rock steady running style (I swear he never slows down, whines, or flinches no matter what he may be going through), he became the silent leader of our little band of Navy runners. And I started to call him Sensei. I claim him as my own, but I know that Kit's friendship and wisdom has had a huge impact on many people, runners and non-runners alike.

Kit has run the Richmond Marathon I don't know how many times. (A lot of times, to say the least.) In the spirit of my Tackling Twenty post from a while back, I invited him to share his marathon tips today. His wise words of wisdom and companionship as a running buddy have helped me through three training cycles and I can say without a doubt he helped me get that PR in Steamtown this year.

He is the Master, I'm still the student. Me telling you what to do tomorrow isn't based in that much experience; Kit has that knowledge and a delivery that can't be duplicated.

So without further ado, I give you Sensei's tips for those who are taking on Richmond tomorrow.

MTTers - If you attended the Race Prep Clinics you got a lot of really good advice from some coaches who have run and coached dozens of marathons.  Some of this will be familiar to you.  I’ve only run a few marathons but they’re fresh enough in my mind that I can remember every one.  Well, big chunks of every one.  I’m still learning, but here are the things I’ve picked up.

The night before:
I like to be sure all my running gear is clean before a marathon.  That’s part of my pre-race ritual.  After my last run I gather up every last hat, reflective band, glove and sock.  You never know what you might need.

That said, I have specific shorts and socks I wear only for long races and I wear them for every long race.  Wear what you know.  Put your outfit together the night before.  Put your bib on your shirt.  It’s a lot easier to get the bib square if you put a magazine inside the shirt before you pin the bib.  Put together your checkable bag the night before too.  I like to put an empty drawstring goody bag in there too, and transfer everything to the drawstring bag after the race.  It’s a lot easier to carry.  If you’ll be using BodyGlide, suntan lotion, medical tape  or anything else, put it with your outfit.  If you’re taking the Downtown Expressway, don’t forget toll change unless you have an EZPass.

Eating the day before is very important.  Have a good breakfast, lunch and dinner.  You can even have dessert.  You can have dessert after lunch too.  I don’t recommend beans or really spicy food, but if it works for you, go for it.  By now you know if it does.  I like a complete meat, carb and veggie dinner the night before, preferably with cheese bacon fries, but everyone works differently.

Set your alarm.  After you put together your outfit and bag, check it.  Check it again after dinner and before you go to bed.  You don’t have to do this but you will.  Check the weather while you’re at it.  You know you want to.  In fact, go ahead and check the weather right now.

The alarm went off.  It didn’t matter because you were already awake, waiting for it.

Eat breakfast 2-3 hours before race time.  I like a veggie burger or turkey sandwich with cheese and mustard on a big thick whole wheat bun.  I have no appetite before a race and sometimes it takes me a really long time to eat my sandwich.  I have regretted every time I skipped my breakfast before a long run or race.

Don says to plan on getting there at 5:30.  That’s a little early for me, but I like to be parked by about 6:15.  If you take I64 east to 195 you’ll get into the line of cars before you get to the toll booth.  Don’t try to skip the line of cars or you’ll end up in Oregon Hill and have to backtrack.  I know this.  


Don’t get picky about choosing a parking deck.  They’re all the same.  I have always parked in the decks near or at the James Center.  It’s a pain in the butt and I hate it but I’ve also always gotten to the start in plenty of time.

Find your friends, take pictures, chat and giggle.  There are port-a-potties right next to the corrals.  You can get into line for these port-a-potties or you can walk just a little further back and find ones where there is no line.  About a half hour before gun time, turn on your GPS.  Better a little too early than a little too late.  Time to head to the corral.

The longest 15 minutes of your life.
Check the time: 15 more minutes. Where are my friends? There they are. Oh crap, my ankle hurts! This was all for nothing! Whoops, false alarm.  Feeling better.  How long is left? 14 minutes.  Where is everybody? Oh, there they are.  OK, there’s my pace guy. Why does my knee hurt so much? OK, better now.  What’s the time? 13 minutes to go.  Let me bounce up and down a little. Oh god, my knee hurts again! No it doesn’t. Can we please just start? Are we missing anyone? Nope, they’re all here.  I’ll bounce up and down a little more.  What’s the time? 12 minutes left. ……

You get the idea. 

Runners get ready….BANG!
The coaches have been telling you for the last few weeks not to start too fast. Don’t worry about that right now  If you try to go too fast for the first mile you’ll step on someone and fall down.  You are beginning the most exhilarating, joyful, passionately wonderful ten miles you’ve ever run.  Spirits are high, your friends are with you, your legs are fresh, you’re released from Taper Madness…Monument Avenue will be fresh and new, full of people cheering you on and the smell of fall leaves crushed underfoot.  This will be your first time running down the hill on Cary.  You can hear the party spot ahead at the shopping center and you feel like you’re floating.  Drink at the water stops.  If you have to walk to drink, wait until you’re past the tables and go to the side.

The Southside!
The Southside stretch starts with the most beautiful part of the course.  Crossing the river you have a gorgeous view to the west, you’re still just a few miles in and the adrenaline is still pumping, and you’ve been essentially running downhill for the last few miles.  Riverside is my favorite part.  All too soon it’s time to climb away from the river to the tedium of Forest Hill/Semmes Avenue.

Ideally you’ll run a negative split, but this is much easier in theory than in practice.  If you get too wrapped up in goal paces and checkpoints you’ll get yourself into trouble.  Don’t expect to speed up too much at the halfway point.  If you’re feeling really good, speed up a little but be careful.  You can speed up more later if you’re still feeling energetic.  There’s a clock and timing mat at the physical (as opposed to mental) halfway point.  You’ll get an idea of your status if your math brain is still working.  Don’t forget, the easy half is the part that’s done.  There’s no more Cary Street hill, no more pretty Riverside, no more Richmond Road Runners handing out candy.  This brings us to…

The Long Hill
Once you pass the party stop and pick up your gel, you might notice it’s getting a little harder to run.  It’s not your imagination.  There is a slight but steady incline the last bit of Semmes, across the Lee Bridge and up Belvidere, all the way to the end of Main.  You’ll start to see people suffer a bit through here.  You might even be suffering a little yourself.  This is where the magnitude of the undertaking starts to sink in.

Anyone who has done a long run with me knows I start losing some of the higher brain function after about mile 14-15.  The non-essential parts of my brain (mostly speech and decision-making) start to shut down.  There is a junk food stop either on the bridge or just after it.  My first marathon, I saw the water and registered the junk food and started thinking about whether I wanted some gummy bears.  I decided that yes, gummy bears would be a good thing.  By the time I made this decision the whole stop – water, gummy bears and all – was behind me and I missed my chance.  Don’t do this.  Drink at every stop and grab some gummies.  If you realize you didn’t want them you can drop them later.

The Long Hill is done when you hit Boulevard, but you’re most likely feeling a bit pooped unless you’re the Wonder Woman owner of this blog, in which case you have a great big smile on your face.  This is the tough part for me.  I’ve developed some strategies for the miles between your longest run to date and Almost There.

1. Straighten your back, hold your head up, close your mouth and swing your arms.  Physically this opens your chest, lengthens your stride and stops you from gasping.  It also brings back some confidence.  You’ve still got a ways to go, but it’s not like you’re going to stop.
2. Set yourself little goals – the top of the overpass, the next stoplight, the Pope Arch.  Something you can watch as it gets closer.  Look away from the goal you’ve set for a while and then look back.  It will be closer than it was.
3. Cuss a lot.  You don’t have to cuss loud and scare the kids and the nice Northsiders, although if that’s what it takes to get through Fauquier then don’t hold back.

My first marathon, partly because I missed the water stop on the Lee Bridge, I had vicious cramps from the end of Main through to the finish line.  If you start cramping there’s not much you can do except keep moving forward.  They might start getting better but they probably won’t.  If you don’t stop moving forward you’re guaranteed to cross the finish line.  For me, somewhere around Virginia Union University, Northside magically turns into…

Almost There!
There are two miles left.  There’s pain and exhaustion, but a grin is starting to show every so often like the sun breaking through after days of rain.  The pace picks up a little.  Even if you’re cramping and gimping, the cramp and gimp gets a little faster.  The grin gets a little stronger.  Grace Street looks pretty nice.  Some of the people around you are starting to run a little faster too.  Some of them aren’t.  That’s OK.  There are a lot more people cheering now and that helps too.  At this point there’s no more strategy.  When you’re running down 5th, try pumping your arms in the air.  The crowd will respond.  It’s pretty cool.  If you’re tempted to leap across the finish line, don’t forget that you’ll be landing on exhausted legs.  Some of us can do that and the rest of us can come really close to a lesson on regret.
The Chute and Thereafter
You’ve just finished what is most likely the hardest, most challenging thing you’ve ever done.  Your coaches made sure you were trained, your family and friends supported you and your running buddies shared the pain, but only you ran and finished your marathon. It’s OK to cry a bit.  I usually do.  The mixture of pain, exhaustion, exhilaration and relief is pretty overwhelming.  Be forewarned, if I see you at the finish line you’ll likely get a sweaty hug and some incoherent babble too. 
Walk around a bit.  Hug people.  Get some food.  I find that bagels require way too much chewing so I skip them and have a couple slices of pizza.  Go home and take the best shower ever.  Celebrate with your friends. Wear your medal, hat and shirt to work on Monday.  Start planning the next one. 
Congratulations, marathoner.

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