Monday, November 7, 2011

Strategy for the Richmond Marathon

It's now less than five days before I run the Richmond Marathon. My primary goal for this race is to qualify for Boston, which for me requires a total time of 3:25 or better. To do that I'll need to run an average pace of 7:49 per mile, which is about 30 seconds faster than I've ever run a marathon. That said, assuming we have good weather, this should be by far the easiest marathon I've ever run. Check out this elevation profile I found from a runner who completed the race last year:

As you can see, there's a fairly large hill just after Mile 5, then some rolling hills Miles 10-13, then what looks like a real doozy in Mile 16.

What's going on in Mile 16? By clicking through on the Garmin player it seems to be just after the Lee Bridge. But speedy local runner and blogger Paul Mainwaring, who ran Richmond in 2:35 last year, told me on Facebook that he doesn't remember a hill there. What is going on?

I went online and found this picture of the Lee Bridge:

As you can see, it's quite large. If you zoom in on the photo, you can see pedestrians on the walkway suspended underneath it. My guess is the bridge is 80 to 100 feet tall. But if you look at the elevation profile of the race, the route descends to below 20 feet at this point. You guessed it, it's another example of a GPS profile messing up on bridges. I think the true profile would be a gradual incline across that deep gap that starts at Mile 15. This corresponds to Paul's description of the bridge as "slightly uphill."

Paul says the toughest hills are a small steep one in Mile 10 and a climb over an overpass in Mile 18-19 [update: It's actually in Mile 20]. Lee Bridge is notorious for being a windy spot, but Paul says the wind didn't bother him last year. Here's hoping I won't have to deal with strong winds this year!

And that's it for terrain difficulties. Other than the possibility of wind on the bridge, none of them strike me as especially daunting, so I think the best strategy will be to just maintain a consistent pace. I want to have a little bit of leeway in case my Garmin is slightly off, so I will go out at a 7:40 pace. I'll slow a bit on the hills, but I should easily make that up on the downhills. If I manage to complete the race at that pace, my time would be 3:21, handily below my target time. Even if I run into wind on the bridge, it shouldn't take 4 minutes off my time, so I should still be comfortably below my target pace.

In a dream scenario, I'm still feeling good when I cross the overpass at Mile 19 and I pick up the pace enough to go sub 3:20. If I don't make my 3:25 target, I hope to at least PR in this race, breaking 3:37. Frankly, given how hard I've worked over the summer and how much I've improved this fall, anything worse than that will be a disappointment.

As I have done in the past, I will be eating GU gels every 4 miles, and drinking something at every water stop. I've had good success with not drinking too much right before the race, but carrying a small water bottle to drink right at the start, so I will do that again this time.

And that's about it. As of now, the forecast is for an overnight low of 33 on Friday night, and a high of 61 on Saturday. Ideally the high temperature would be a little cooler, but that's actually cooler than my previous two marathons. At this point there is no prediction of what the temperature will be when the race starts at 8:00 and at the finish at 11:30, but my guess is that it will be close to 40 at the start, and maybe in the mid-50s at the finish. At this point the wind forecast is 8 mph. Given the other possibilities, I would certainly take that weather!

This week I've gone into full taper mode, running just 10 miles for my long run yesterday and 5 today. Tomorrow I will do a very short tempo run, then it's just easy 4-mile runs for the rest of the week leading up to the race. I can definitely feel my muscles beginning to recover from months of hard workouts. I can't wait for the race!


  1. All right Dave, you've done the homework. I know you'll do exceptionally well at Richmond. Follow your race strategy and everything else will be taken care of.

  2. good luck Dave, you've got this. Your strategy seems sound!

  3. Thanks Chad and Paul! I'm pretty confident heading into this, but I don't want to leave anything to chance. Excited!