Racing 13.1: Tips for the Richmond Half Marathon

The half marathon is a beautiful distance—just long enough to still really use some speed, just short enough that recovery takes far less time than a full. I raced 3 halfs in just 4 weeks this past spring, and am set to go 2 for 2 on consecutive weekends this November. When I line up for the Richmond Half on November 12, this will be my 33rd half marathon.

I’ve run Richmond three times before (as my third, sixth, and eighth halfs respectively), but have never run this one while in decent racing shape. All of my other Richmond halfs were during some fairly intense years of my Ph.D. program. I would sign myself up for this, and then early November would roll around and…surprise! Time to go race 13.1 miles! Eeek! Tackling this one in relatively much better fitness than my most recent Richmond Half will be quite interesting—and is honestly a little scary!  (When I think that I’ve done 24 halfs since my most recent Richmond Half, that just sounds crazy! ...and you know that it’s been a while.) I’m hoping to create faster memories on the course this year—along those lines, I started looking at the course map, reminiscing on past RVA halfs, and gathered up a few Richmond Half specific tips that may help you too:

GET THERE WITH PLENTY OF TIME TO SPARE ON RACE DAY. The last time I ran this, in 2013, was a near terrifying traffic situation where I almost missed the start of the race. I drove in from Charlottesville the morning of the race and had allowed plenty of time to get there, but had not really thought about the bumper-to-bumper traffic moving into downtown Richmond. (In previous years, I had stayed in Richmond the night before, but the whole “broke grad student” situation was really kicking into gear that fall, and I didn’t have my sister to share a hotel room with me.) I had made terrific time on the actual drive to Richmond, but getting into Richmond itself added a whole new level of pre-race nerves. Add to this my less-than-perfect sense of direction and not quite knowing where to park, and I was already pumping full of adrenaline and I hadn’t even started running yet. I ended up in the very lowest floor of this parking garage which miraculously materialized at the right minute, in some possibly semi-illegal “compact car only” spot but it was either leave the car right there right then or miss the race start! I parked with my heart practically pounding out of my chest, and with quite a few nervous glances at my watch, switched into my flats, threw all my extra clothes in the trunk, and sprinted to the start with about 5 minutes to spare. Whatever you do, don’t do this! This was possibly the closest I have ever come to missing the start of the race. (Exceptions: 1.) The 2014 Monticello Classic 5k which I did indeed miss, but won in 18:54 minus about a :45 handicap! 2.) The Myrtle Beach Half in 2013 which I decided to do as a long run the day after PRing in the 5k…almost missed the start there too but was approaching that in a more relaxed fashion anyways.) In sum, find somewhere to stay downtown the night before. If you cannot do that, be sure to have a very good plan and idea of where to park in the morning! Talk to the folks at the very helpful Expo and have an agenda of where exactly you’ll go as roads will be closed.

Another slightly less important point: have an “escape route” for the drive home after the race—the traffic can be rather intense. A lot of roads won’t be open yet, so don’t try to rely on your car or phone’s navigation systems. Again, the Expo Information Booth should be a good help here.

Ok, now on to the actual race itself.

A FEW POINTS ON THE COURSE WHICH STAND OUT: (course map from Richmond Half official site)

  • The first three miles or so go very quickly. These are flat, and it could be easy to go out a little too quickly.
  • Just past mile 3, you hit a small out-and-back section of the course, where you can get a good look at people both in front of and behind you. Near the end of this straight shot out-and-back is mile 4. This part can be energizing since you see lots of other runners around you and get cheers from your friends!
  • From this little out-and-back, you’ve got about a mile until you hit Bryan Park. In the park, you’ll go over a timing map which registers your 10k time—and I remember there being a photographer near there so smile! Bryan Park, which goes from approx. mile 5.5 to 7.5 is the most hilly section. If you can come through here feeling relatively good, you should be all set. Stay calm here and save some energy for rolling over the later sections.
  • In the past, I’ve found the long stretches of road from miles 9-12 to be the most challenging. We’ll see what I think after this year; I may be remembering how this felt as my less well-trained self… These sections of road are flatter, more open, and have less dense cheering sections than a few other points, notably Bryan Park. Don’t let yourself mentally go into la-la land. Stay focused here, and try to pick it up.
  • At the very last half mile or so, be ready for a very downhill finish. It will be fast, but also probably kind of hurt because it just keeps going and going and is a bit rough on the quads. Just be ready mentally for a long downhill. (It could be worse! It’s not uphill!)

A FEW MORE GENERIC HALF TIPS FOR FIRST-TIMERS (OR REMINDERS USEFUL FOR EVERY HALF)

  • Take liquid of some kind at every aid station. By mile 10, you’ll be glad you did!
  • Stay calm in the early couple miles. By the time you get to mile 8, if you feel good, kick it into another gear—you only have 5 miles to go from this point.
  • Have a general idea of what you’d like to aim for in terms of a 10k split. Even if you don’t run with a Garmin, the Richmond course will have that split very visible for you.
  • Be ready for the weather; dress in layers that you can toss if need be. Have the right accessories, whether arm warmers, gloves, and/or a headband or hat.
  • If you have friends spectating, have a plan for where they’ll be. Sometimes it is enormously helpful mentally to know you’ll see these people at certain points along the course.
  • Have fun! Enjoy running!
  • And, or course, do some recovery yoga afterwards!

Good luck to everyone running the 8k, half, or full! I'll see you bright and early in Richmond on Saturday!

Traveling to Richmond for the race! Find a cool place to explore afterwards! I love traveling to races to find new adventures--whether this means checking out a restaurant famous to the area or a local attraction. Above, the Blandy Experimental Farm after my most recent half.

Traveling to Richmond for the race! Find a cool place to explore afterwards! I love traveling to races to find new adventures--whether this means checking out a restaurant famous to the area or a local attraction. Above, the Blandy Experimental Farm after my most recent half.