Richmond. Pre-race.


Dean and I in the starting corral at Richmond


Thursday November 12, 2009

With less than 2 days to go until I ran the Richmond marathon, I wasn’t sure if I should start packing my bags or start building an ark.  Rain had been falling for days as Mother Nature – perhaps getting back at me for ridiculing her on this blog before – apparently decided she didn’t want to cooperate in my attempt to qualify for Boston. The remnants of Hurricane Ida continued to saturate the Southeast with steady rainfall. I got downright panicky when I read the following from the Richmond Times Dispatch

The National Weather Service this morning projected that the James River will crest at nearby Westham Gauge at 13.9 feet at 1 a.m. Saturday, seven hours before the start of the marathon.

But race organizers seemed confident that the James River would not flood onto the course, and even if it did, they were prepared to reroute the course. There was nothing I could do but trust these guys to plan accordingly. And pack my DryMax socks. 

 Friday November 13, 2009

Maybe there actually is something to this whole Friday the 13th business. Travelling north on I- 85, my girlfriend Laura (planning to run her first half marathon ) and I had plenty of reason for concern. Mother Nature and her daughter Ida continued their soggy assault on the southeast.

Marathons and nerves are always a package deal.  But throw in flood projections, a 5-hour drive through high winds and rain, multiple Virgina highway construction sites with lane closings, and a girlfriend annoyed by squeaking windshield wipers, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for trouble. 

By the time I finally arrived in Richmond and found a parking space some half a mile from the marathon expo, only to subsequently find hundreds of much closer spaces inexplicably cordoned off, let’s just euphemistically say that I was ‘edgy’.  I shoved my wallet into my warm-up pants’ pocket and walked the half mile in the rain to the site of the race expo, the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center. 

The packet pick-up presented new challenges.  Runners needed to know their bib number in advance before approaching the registration tables, positioned according to the bib numbers.  Fortunately, I knew my number as I had just recently received it in the mail.  So I marched up to the first table and confidently told the lady ‘Allen Strickland. 558 please.’   ‘Okay Mr. Strickland, can I see your I.D.?’, she asked.  ‘Sure’ I responded as I reached into my pocket.  Nothing.  I tried the other one.  Empty.   ‘I must have left it in the car. Is it really necessary? I promise I’m Allen Strickland.’   Suddenly the demeanor of the friendly little old lady turned a bit darker.   ‘You’ll have to see the help desk’ she said, and not warmly.  My anger meter inched a little closer to red as I marched to the help desk.

‘Hello! What can I do for you?’ said the next kind, smiling, elderly woman at the help desk.   ‘Yes, hi, um, apparently I left my I.D. in the car and the lady over there sent me to you. What do I need to do to get my packet?’  Her friendly grin instantly disappeared as she said ‘I think you need to go get your ID’ with just a tad too much sarcasm for my liking. 

If I had been a cartoon, this was the point where that silly burst of steam and accompanying whistle would have exploded from my head.  I stormed over to Laura who, with her packet already in hand, asked, ‘What’s the deal?’   I responded, loudly enough so both help desk and registration desk ladies could hear, ‘The good people of America’s friendliest marathon are requiring that I walk another half mile in the pouring rain to get my I.D.’  I knew they were just following rules but they seemed just a little too adherent under the conditions.  Is marathon identity theft really that big a problem in Richmond?

I finally made my way back to the car where I found my wallet on the floorboard.  Had I learned nothing from the Plaxico Burress tragedy?  I was lucky on two counts: 1) It was a wallet, not a gun and 2) It had fallen in my car and not somewhere on the ground where it might never have been recovered. (For those of you chuckling about the fashion faux pas of gallivanting around in sweatpants, let me assure you that such attire is completely acceptable at a marathon expo.)

Other than a few more tense minutes spent driving around in search of lunch, or more specifically, a parking spot, somewhere, anywhere, in downtown Richmond, we encountered few additional problems on Friday.  But I was still tense enough by dinner time that I ordered a beer, despite all the articles I read that declared alcohol as death for marathon runners.  The beer did its job – I calmed down.  For now.

Saturday November 14, 2009

D-day.  And finally something went according to plan.  I had booked our room months in advance, in the closest hotel still taking reservations for race weekend.  So Saturday morning Laura and I walked less than a mile to the starting line.  Dean and I had decided to meet at an old movie theater,  one Runner’s World had somehow managed to commandeer for the race, directly adjacent to the starting line.

When I walked over, there he was, precisely where I expected him to be.  After Friday, I was shocked at how smoothly things were coming together on race day.  But it didn’t take very long for things to get a little more dicey.

With about 20 minutes before start time, Dean told me that he had to hit the port-a-johns.  I knew this would be problematic at best – there were over 5,000 people in this race, many of whom had the same problem as Dean did right about now.  Lines would be long. 

Over the last couple of months, Dean and I have shared a mutual goal – running a sub-3:21 marathon to qualify for Boston.  And since we run very nearly the same times (although Dean always manages to run just a little faster), we’d been running races together to help each other pace appropriately.  We’d run a 15K (Lungstrong), 2 half marathons (Davidson and the Dowd), and a 30K (Salem Lake) together.  I had become heavily reliant on Dean’s help in races, especially those times when I struggled and was ready to back off – those were the times when a few carefully placed encouraging words from Dean kept me going.  So with my biggest race in years just 10 minutes from starting, sans Dean, I started panicking.  Again.

5 minutes to guntime – still no sight of Dean.  A local Richmond man sang the national anthem and yet Dean was nowhere to be found.  I resigned myself to running alone – I tried to tell myself that I’d run into Dean somewhere out there, hopefully before I made some dumb mistake that would kill my chances of qualifying. 

Then, with mere moments to spare, Dean showed up.  If anything, he was more anxious than I was, after all, I was at least already in the starting corral – I would have begun the race on time regardless.  Waiting in the long ‘restroom’ lines, Dean wasn’t so sure he’d be as lucky.  But he made it.

The long months of training were over.  All the logistics of travel were over.  The anxious, sleepless, marathon eve was over.  Hurricane Ida was over – the rain miraculously subsided minutes before race time.  There was nothing left to do but run.  The starting gun fired and we were off.


One Response to “Richmond. Pre-race.”

  1. Bill Says:

    A cliff hanger? Really??? Ha. Nice blog. I am looking forward to the rest.

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