Richmond Marathon 2021 Race Recap

Richmond Marathon 2021 Race Recap

It’s often said that if you want to restore your faith in humanity, go spectate a marathon. This couldn’t be more true!

After last year’s discouraging race year with so many live events canceled due to the pandemic, it was awesome to have the Richmond marathon, half marathon, and 8k in person once again! Although Sports Backers did an amazing job pivoting the race to a new semi-virtual format from Dorey Park last year, there’s nothing like a live event. The lingering effects of the virus on the supply chain claimed a temporary casualty related to this year’s race, though: no medals. They are still stuck in a crate in a port somewhere, even though they were ordered extra early to avoid this possibility. While disappointing, for sure, it did not take away the joy of the sweet finishes on race day. 

I always have anxiety leading up to a race, even if I’m not running! Although my stressors are different if I’m coaching, I still have strange dreams in the days leading up to the event. It’s always something about showing up with the wrong gear. This time I showed up without shoes! Fortunately, this didn’t actually happen, because just like we preach to all of our team, I laid out my gear the night before so nothing would be forgotten. 

Flat Anne, ready for race day!

As a coach, race morning is all about logistics. This begins with parking! The deck in which I normally park was not going to be open after 6pm. I’m so glad I struck up a conversation with the parking attendant, because my car would have been trapped at the end of the day! He directed me to a different garage. But wow! Parking went up from $8 in 2019 to $15. But it was worth it for the convenience. It is what it is. But I ended up parking where my fellow coaches did, thankfully! Once parked, we made our way over to the Omni to stay warm and finalize plans before the race. I was able to see so many friends and wish them well pre-run, many of whom were running the half, which starts earlier than the full. 

Just before the benediction with my fellow Pink Nation coaches!

We made our way to our traditional spot for our team’s benediction before the race. This is always special for Pink Nation, but this year was bittersweet. It was our first time without Blair Just as our head coach. I think he would have been proud of this moment, though. We sent our team to bag check and the corrals, and we took in the collective energy of the crowd. 

Most of the coaches run the first 5 miles with the team, choosing folks who are first time marathoners among them so they don’t go out too fast. The adrenaline at the beginning is so powerful, and it’s easy to burn too much energy at the start! The crowd support is really strong in these first 5 miles, as spectators abound! I even saw one of my patients who was discharged a couple of weeks ago. She had told me that she lived near the course, and she always watches on her little corner. I promised I would look for her, and she was right where she said she would be, sitting on her rollator. I had to stop and give her a hug! And she looked great! That was such a nice surprise. 

All of the MTT coaches meet at the 5 mile mark and find our designated driver. We are then shuttled to various parts of the course to support our runners. My first stop? The midway point on Forest Hill. We stayed for over an hour. Some of our runners looked amazing, even ahead of the pace groups they had intended to run with. Others were struggling already. Doling out Tylenol and Biofreeze and sorting out mental issues had begun. 

On Forest Hill avenue with fellow coaches awaiting our runners!

We were then shuttled to our next stop near Main Street, which is roughly mile 17 on the course. Our second driver was vegan! We had lots to discuss, obviously. The energy along this part of the course is highly variable, as drunk brunchers kept up the tradition and were out in full force, cheering on anyone who passed. I was offered alcohol on more than one occasion as I ran back and forth to check on our runners, although I declined! “Come on, coach!,” they pleaded. Ha. Nope! But our runners are more focused at this point, as this is where the real struggle of the marathon begins. And, yes, I doled out more agents of temporary relief…

Teaming up with Coach Dawn, we made our way to Lombardy, cutting the course from Main Street back to the turn to Grace Street. We continued on toward Brook Road, a notorious “dead zone” on the marathon route with limited crowd support, stopping at hydration queen Pam’s traditional SAG near the Kroger on the way. We helped a few folks there, including one runner with a particularly angry right knee. Then we picked up more runners on Brook. A former teammate, Dinah, joined us from the SAG! This is in the last 5k of the race. 

It was on Brook Road where we met a runner from Lynchburg who was sitting on the curb, absolutely ready to give up. He was cramping so badly, he could barely stand up. We went through the typical litany of questions to solve his issues. Salt? Water? Food? He’d been taking in all of these things, but only gels for “food.” Dinah had SAG candy with her, and we offered a bit more substantial nourishment with this. Another coach stopped to help, and she had Biofreeze spray, which I used to douse his calves and thighs to alleviate pain. I’d run out of my Biofreeze packets and Tylenol long ago! Within a few minutes, he could stand and walk. Dawn took him to the finish, peppering him with stories from their mutual hometown and helping him through the mental struggles that are so often a part of the marathon finish.

I met one of my runners on Brook, having fallen behind the 5:30 pacer group. She was struggling a bit, but still moving! I took Shree all the way to 5th street. She did awesome! 

With Shree on Grace Street., around mile 25 on the course.

From here, I stayed near the finish, cheering on all the runners to that last turn to the downhill finish, and having a great time reminding the first time marathoners that they were about to become a part of the one percent! That is the part of the human population who have completed at least one marathon. 

Our final runners from our team had been granted a head start. They started their race an hour earlier so they could beat the cutoff. Doris, Sue, and Veronica set out before sunrise. This was not Veronica’s first race, but she certainly sacrificed her time to make sure these ladies made it to the finish. Having served in this role myself at times, it’s heartwarming to witness. It’s a different kind of joy taking a new marathoner (or two!) under your wing for an entire marathon. Witnessing the perseverance of these first time marthoners throughout the season and watch them meet their goals, regardless of time, is a testament to the human spirit. So grateful to Coach Carrie and Sports Backers for making the early start happen! It really does take a village to raise a marathoner.

With 2/3 of our final runners. Doris in the tutu, and Veronica in her red MTT shirt, with our coaches in the chute to the finish.

The weather really couldn’t have been much better for the day. The initial forecast for Saturday was for rain courtesy of a coastal storm. But that system blew through early in the morning on Friday, and Saturday was sunny! Starting in the low 40’s and with temps rising into the 60’s, it was perhaps warmer than most runners would like, but there was also a pretty strong breeze that intensified as the day progressed, and this somewhat compensated for the relative heat, even if it did take off a few hats and blew dust in your eyes! 

As our runners crossed the finish line, I was reminded of how completely awesome it is to watch someone realize that they have accomplished their goal. As a marathoner, I know all the feelings that go with the process of running this race, especially for the first time. It starts with self doubt on that first day of training team. Then you start to believe. And then during the race, you may think you are going to give up, as the race becomes painful and suddenly way harder than you thought it would be. It takes all the courage and determination you can muster to get past these feelings. And then you finally reach the finish, delirious and exhausted, and the tears start. As a coach, I’d been keeping tabs on certain runners, knowing what each has fought to get to that point, and to see their victories was really special! It’s simply marathon magic.

I’m so proud of the Richmond community and Sports Backers for once again proving that the Richmond Marathon is America’s friendliest! There are so many things I’d taken for granted about this race. And I am so honored to coach with such an amazing group of people with Pink Nation! To see happy runners, race organizers, spectators, and Sports Backers Marathon Training Team coaches out on the course, and even legendary Bart Yasso at the start and finish line after a year of canceled races, was truly remarkable. It felt almost normal. 

With running legend Bart Yasso at the finish!

___________

Every race has a story. What’s yours? If you participated in any of the Richmond races on 11/13/21, I hope your day turned out wonderfully! It was a great day for the RVA!

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness! Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Nuun, Switch4Good, and Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon 2021.

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