Richmond 2010


A slew of Charlotteans at this race. From left to right, half marathoners Leonard Hilliard, Thomas Long, myself, Bob Heck, and The Gypsy Kid (aka Kevin Ballantine)


This adventure began in earnest on Friday morning when Kevin and his wife Mary dropped by Laura’s to pick us up.  We dubbed ourselves “The PR Car” as we headed north on I-85. 

Roughly 6 hours later, we rolled into the expo at the Arthur Ashe center in Richmond.  Within minutes of arriving, I spotted my Big Red Shoe nemesis, Tom Ricks, and his wife, Andi.  We chatted for a bit and I found out Tom was gunning to break 3 hours in the marathon the next day.  He also showed me his Bart Yasso (who was at the expo) autographed copy of My Life On the RunBart signed Tom’s book exactly like he had mine when I met him in Alaska with “Never limit where running can take you”.  Bart, you two-timing bastard – I thought we had something special.  In Bart’s defense, he did throw in a “See you at Boston!” in my book, after I told him I was trying to qualify.

Being the American consumers that we are, Laura and I purchased all manner of running paraphernalia – Laura snagging like a hundred pair of running socks, while I scored some arm sleeves.  The weather report called for a chilly start to our half marathon in the morning and I wanted some layer options.

The Gypsy Kid and Mary dropped us off at the Doubletree hotel where we were greeted with warm chocolate chip cookies which almost made up for the broken coffee machine in our room and the vending machine that stole my dollar.  Almost.

After settling into the room, we did some quick restaurant research and found that La Grotta looked like the most promising place for some pre-race pasta carb-loading.  A few texts with TGK later, and we were walking into the joint, only to find it packed,  with at least a 45-minute wait.  No thanks.  We wandered off and mere moments later, Kevin spotted Europa and after a few minutes perusing the menu to ensure pasta options, we trotted in.  Much more laid-back than the stuffy La Grotta.  Sold.  We bellied up to the bar.

One of the cool things about this trip was that I was infinitely more relaxed than I was this time one year ago.  I forget which literary work, or film, it is that I’m about to steal from, I mean pay homage to, but precisely one year ago I was in Richmond to try to qualify for the Boston marathon and I was so uptight that “if you shoved a piece of coal up my ass, within 24 hours it would become a diamond”.  A year later and I was as calm as a napping puppy – not a care in the world. 

I was running the half and I was doing it for fun.  Don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to do well – the goal was a sub-1:30 and a guaranteed entry, bypassing the lottery,  for the New York marathon.  But if I didn’t make it, who cared.  This weekend was really about showing up , hanging out with, and supporting the hordes of Charlotte runners making the trek to Richmond to race.  So while I stuck to my pre-race ritual of eating pasta, I broke ritual by drinking a couple of beers without panicking about how they might ruin my race. 

The Race

Saturday morning, Laura and I made the 1-mile or so jog to the starting line to meet Kevin at 6:30.  Fearing the chilly start, I wore a little  running hat, arm sleeves, gloves, and calf sleeves.  But after our mile jaunt, I was already warm and so I quickly de-layered and threw all the superfluous clothing into my bag to check at one of the many UPS trucks there expressly for that purpose.  I decided to go with trainers instead of my Karhu racing flats as I’d never run in these farther than a 10K on asphault.  I was a little concerned how 13.1 miles of pounding on the pavement might affect my feet and legs with such little protection.

I was still scrambling to get the D-chip off my Karhu and onto my Mizuno when Kevin trotted up.  I shoved all extra layers into my neon orange (this is a lifesaver post-race when the folks in the truck are wading through thousands of bags) backpack, kissed Laura and wished her luck, and then trotted off with Kevin to find Leonard (Hilliard).  Evenly matched, Kevin and Leonard had received instructions from our coach, Mark Hadley, to work together during the race.

On our way to find Leonard, Kevin and I stumbled upon Bart Yasso who was in the middle of a video shoot, presumably for Runner’s World.  I urged Kevin to run over with me and “get in the shot”.  Yeah,  I’m media savvy like that.  So make a note to look for us in the Runner’s World videos.

We found Leonard and the 3 of us took a pleasant little mile stroll down Broad Street.  It was kind of eerie, yet nice,  to have the blocked-off street to ourselves.

2 fast guys and their balding friend, yours truly.

With the warm-up complete, there was nothing left to do but take our spot at the front of our starting corral, mere feet behind the Kenyan, and other, elites.  Moments later, more of the Charlotte contingency joined us – Bob Heck, Thomas Long, and Dennis Livesay.  I was glad to see everybody but at the same time, a tad frustrated.  Everybody present was faster than me.  Again, when you’re looking for the mark, the guy that will be easy to beat, and can’t find one, you are the mark.  It’s a slightly unsettling feeling.  But no big deal, I would just run my race. 

Someone played a recording of a choir singing the national anthem and moments later we were finally off – I was grateful since my warm-up had faded and I was beginning to get chilly standing around in racing shorts and a singlet in the 30-something degrees of a brisk autumn morning.

I made a conscious effort to throttle back, forcing myself not to go out with Kevin, Leonard, or Dennis.  I knew Bob was the closest to my wheelhouse having run a 1:27 half so I settled in a few paces behind him.  I felt stiff, especially in my hamstrings, and my hands were frigid.  The pace felt aggressive for me, even at a slow(ish) 7:00/mile, but this was around where I needed to be if I were to have any chance of breaking 1:30.  I needed to keep things near, hopefully under, 7:00 for these early splits, and I’d need to pick it up in the later stages of the race.  A random older guy ran up and asked me what I thought our current pace was.  When I answered “About 7”, he said, “Oh, I need to back off!” but continued to run directly abreast of me.  Bizarre.

I urged myself to try to keep contact with Bob who looked uber-comfortable as we clicked off about a 6:50 first mile.   In fact, Bob appeared to be infinitely more comfortable than I felt and he was picking up the pace as we went along.  By mile 2, I was pretty sure that I had better let him go.

With Bob peeling off into the distance, I was on my own.  That’s not to say that I was alone as I was surrounded by other runners.  But I had no idea who these folks were or what they were capable of.  I pushed my pace dangerously close to my personal red line.  I’ve used this analogy before but I think it’s an apt one – I walked up to the edge of the abyss and peered down.  Much faster, and I would fall in, crashing and burning.  Much slower, and I had no shot at breaking 1:30.  I teetered on this edge the entire race, slowing down slightly for uphills and speeding up slightly on downhills.

Around mile 4 some dorky-looking chubby guy with the gait of a wounded water buffalo passed me.  I am not a light runner – I have some pretty heavy, rather loud, footfalls.  But my steps were virtually silent compared to the stomping, slapping footfalls of William “The Refrigerator” Perry over here.  “Really?” I thought to myself.  “Is this what I’ve become?  A runner who struggles to beat Stompy Joe with his bright-blue-and-yellow-striped beanie?”  But to this guy’s credit, we were clicking off sub-7’s for mile after mile.  He would surge ahead of me on the uphills and I would pass him back on the down.  Over and over and over.

We reached mile 4 which had us running around a little peninsula of a median so that we got a good look at the folks ahead of us.  Kevin and Leonard, side-by-side, yelled to me.  I could only manage a wave as I continued to battle it out with wounded-water-buffalo guy.  Bob came by, fresh as a daisy.  How was it that everybody was so relaxed while I felt like I was struggling?  But I thought, or rather hoped, that I could maintain this pace, now dipping into the 6:40’s at spots, for the duration. 

I attempted to play my old tried-and-true mind games with myself by saying things like, “Okay, your warm-up’s  over, let’s run a fast 15K”, then 10K, and so forth.  But it wasn’t working particularly well – I handed the conductor my ticket and took a seat on the pain train.  But through it all, I maintained pace relatively well.  I had a couple of splits, during hilly miles, that slowed over 7:00 pace, but for the most part, I hovered in the 6:40’s to 6:50’s.  I came through the 10K split in 42:46, only a few seconds slower than my 10K race in Huntersville a couple of weeks before.  This bolstered my confidence a little, and yet I still had nearly 7 miles to go.  Mercifully, the Fridge had dropped back by this point.

At the mile 8 water stop, they were handing out free Accel gels and I grabbed one,  along with a cup of water.  The gel went down exceedingly well.  I felt like I was fading and I hoped the gel could give me a little surge.

But there was no getting past the fact that I was continuing to fade.  I was grateful that I was running a half, not a full, marathon on this day.  A full would have been death.  I already felt like I was on the Bataan Death march.  And I was starting to get passed.  A lot.

Seconds before the start of the race, I had turned to Kevin and stole, uh quoted, another movie line (this one from Zombieland of all places – actually a surprisingly entertaining flick), “It’s time to nut up or shut up!”  As the thousandth fat old man passed me, I used the line on myself and passed him back.  Then I marked the guy in front of us for my next victim and passed him too.

I caught a second wind, most likely from the gel at mile 8, and I fought my way back under 7-minute pace.  I knew the course was flat the rest of the way in and, as I crossed mile 10, I told myself, “All you have to do is run a strong 5K tempo.  Come on, you can run a 5K in your sleep.  5K’s are nothing.  Todd doesn’t even get out of bed for a 5K.  Do this.”  I reached deep down for any motiviation I could find.

The last couple of miles are a blur, just a struggle to maintain pace and chase a guaranteed entry into New York.  Miraculously, I made it to the final turn and stared down at that last quarter mile, a blazing-fast downhill stretch.  Some guy passed me and I passed him back, with authority.  He retorted and surged past me.

Then I remembered this, a video that Théoden posted on Facebook, and one of the coolest, most inspirational running videos I’ve ever seen, despite the shoddy quality.  For those of you too lazy to watch, it’s basically the last 800 meters of the 1994 1600 meter California high school state championship.  With 2 laps to go, Michael Stember makes a move and blows past the leaders.  According to the text on the video, “They laughed.  The crowd actually laughed.  They assumed he miscounted laps.  He hadn’t.”  Stember destroys the field.  The video ends by saying “Be your own hero.” 

I wanted to be my own hero.  I kicked.  Apparently this guy saw the same video because he kicked too.  I heard someone cheer my name (pretty sure it was Kevin) as I sprinted even faster.

Leonard, apparently having already eaten, showered, shaved and grabbed his camera, was now on the sidelines taking pictures.  He and Kevin ran phenomenal races, finishing  only 2 seconds apart, in 36th and 37th place, with times of 1:22:00 and 1:22:02 respectively.  Leonard snapped this pic of me and anonymous settling it like men (sort of):

Too old guys nearly kill themselves to outkick a complete stranger. But yeah, I outsprinted him. Suck it.

I edged the guy at the line.  I officially finished in 1:30:41.  Again, so very close to my goal, but no cigar.  But I gained a 3+ minute PR and some confidence.  I’m sure I’m capable of a sub-1:30, with a little more training.


I grabbed my medal, a foil blanket, and a slice of pizza (which, like the guy in the picture above, didn’t go down without a fight).  I fought off nausea and cooled down with Kevin as we ran back to spot Laura coming in.  Laura, who was running her first 20-mile training run enroute to the Dallas White Rock Marathon, was not supposed to be racing.  She ran 5 miles prior to starting the race.  But in she came, 12 minutes ahead of her PR!  Madness.  She was barely edged out by Kevin, 13 minutes, for The PR Car passenger with the biggest PR.  But I’m still giving her the nod as she ran 5 miles earlier and was intentionally throttling back.

After seeing Laura come in, Kevin and I found Leonard and we all made our way back up the hill to land a strategic spot to watch the marathon finishers come in.  We found the perfect place at the top of the hill, roughly about 600 meters from the finish line.  It was mere moments before the winner came through and just another 15 minutes or so after that, we recognized the gait of the runner rounding the corner.  Paul came storming through in 7th place:

Paul, with a look of sheer determination, finishes up in seventh place.


Paul was followed closely by Jay and Aaron in eleventh and thirteenth places, respectively.  If there had been a team competition, the Charlotte Running Club would have, pardon the pun, run away with it in convincing fashion.  Kevin, Leonard, and I screamed for these guys and they finished strong.  It was a rare and cool thing to see these friends finish a race – usually, if all of us are at the same locale on race day, I’m in the same race and therefore far behind and unable to see their finish.  It was so much fun to cheer them on.

After our respective races, showers, ice baths, and naps, many of us met up later that night.  Everyone I spoke with, everyone, PR’d.  That is exceedingly rare.  We swapped a few war stories, drank a few beers, and then, with everyone exhausted, or to use Paul’s vernacular, “bloody well knackered”, we all called it a night.  I, and I’m guessing pretty much everyone else, slept well.

Another PR in the books.  I’m hovering around some significant milestones.  I hope to break 40 in the 10K (to earn a top corral spot at Cooper River), 1:30 in the half (for a guaranteed spot in the New York marathon), and 3:20 in the marathon (well, just because, damn it).  I hope you continue to run this incredible journey with me, either vicariously or, as many of you are doing, literally!  See you on the road, track, or trail!


One Response to “Richmond 2010”

  1. Stephen Spada Says:

    Great recap Allen! Awesome result and nice to meet you at the banquet…

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