With 77F / 25C, strong winds, I couldn’t have asked for a better running condition. Ideally 40-50F might be better suited for me in breaking any personal records. It was hot by any standard, but I was ready to leave winter behind, the heat was not a problem for me. No more long sleeves and coats. Give me heat and beaches!
Friday night, I drove down to Newport News. It is about three and half hours away from Washington, DC. I avoided the traffic by leaving late, after dinner, otherwise, I would have sat in the traffic for probably an extra hour or two.
Preface, I have nothing much to write about this race, I went there, ran it, was happy and went home. You could skip all the way to the end if you like and won’t miss much.
My original plan was to go down on Saturday, but I found out Friday morning that I booked a hotel for Friday night too. Not sure why I did that knowing myself I want to spend as little money as possible because hotels are expensive. An extra night meant an extra day of fun. I packed quickly in the morning, went to work, then traveled down. Before leaving work, my mom called, hey, come over for dinner. Dinner wasn’t part of my plan but I made a detour for dinner. I just wanted to get there as quickly as possible, didn’t realize you just couldn’t go anywhere on a weekend in our area due to traffic. Dinner saved me the time of sitting in the traffic.
The drive was quiet and uneventful, since it was late at night after rush hours. I made a second detour to my house, which was kind of on the way, but I didn’t really have to stop. I stopped to use the restroom and pack away some food in the fridge, so they wouldn’t spoil over the weekend. I was in a good spirit. It has been a long time since I last traveled. Afterward, no more stops. I could only describe the trip as a meditative or worshipful time.
The next day I went to pick up my bib at the race convention. There was nothing much to do there. It was a typical race pickup with a couple shops, some tables, bibs, shirts, beer id check, info desk, a race late signup area, etc. I studied the maps, both for the half and full with other people. No problem to be expected. The course seemed simple. They said it would be well marked and we wouldn’t get lost. Indeed, the course was good. Unlike trail marathons, this one no one could get lost.
Leaving the convention, I spent the rest of the day at First Landing State Park, where I had my first 50k ultra a few years back. I chose to go there especially to relive my old race. It was satisfying to step back on the course, that was one of the races I don’t mind doing again. I ran about 8 miles, about halfway through the park before getting too tired. When evening came, I went for a chinese buffet restaurant, a tradition for me. Not much to say, except I carb-loaded. By the way, the host hotel offered unlimited spaghetti for $13, but I didn’t take up on their offer. And I was shy, not wanting to meet anyone.
I was not a bit worried about the race the next day. I ran many marathons and this was just another. Not that it is not special, each one is unique. There are things that I have become familiar with, and you just flow with it.
On the other hand, I have been anticipating this race. I have waited for the Newport News Marathon for maybe 3 or even 4 years, with the last two years being during the pandemic, and cancellations, and not much racing going on. And I have been checking the race website throughout the pandemic to see when the race registration would open. This year it finally had an in-person race. I believed I signed up in October. Yes, pandemic is over. Wohoo. We were advised to wear masks still, but only a few of us did when we picked up our race packages.
I was up by 4 and by 4:30 I was out the hotel. The morning was pretty warm already. There were heavy condensation on the roads as if it rained during the night. It was going to get hotter. I went in T-shirt and shorts.
I went to bed early since I had to be up early. We were going to take the shuttle at the finish line to the start line. It would have been nice to see the course in reverse, but the bus was using a different route than the one we would run on. I believe they might have closed the roads by then. We had an hour for the bus. I slept a bit while on the bus, because the night before I only managed maybe 2 hours of sleep. I blame the hotel. My neighbors from upstairs were making a lot of noise, not sure what they were doing, but it sounded like some HIIT, some people #$#&.
The shuttle dropped us off at 6 at the start. We waited around until 7, when the race would start. I had no drop bag. Having run ultras, preparing a drop bag for a marathon seems silly. And I am lazy. in other years, I can see why the dropbags would be useful, because you can put your jacket in it before the race and hand it in to the staff to be picked up at the end. This year, the temperature was so mild, it was not necessary.
The race was like other races I did. There was nothing much stood out. Sorry. Everything was just a blur to me except the start and finish. Mind you I had my glasses on, at least most of the race. We ran was all I remembered. There are some hills, but nothing too bad. I don’t remember much.
I started slower than in other races. Most people sprinted out the gate, which was expected given the small race size (~350 runners), meaning we have on average faster runners, probably the average finishing time was around 4:00. Unlike many other races, there was no jostling with other runners. I was one of the slower ones and soon I settled into pace. The course was mostly empty around me and would remain like so till the end. I don’t know if I were in the first hundred, maybe it would feel crowded. There were plenty of room where I at for the whole race. I was hoping to catch the half marathoners since they started at the halfway point and an hour later, I was hoping I would be fast enough to have some company maybe at the remaining couple miles. I did that before in other marathons. I used to run marathons where we had a lot of people around. However in the end, I was not able to catch up. In theory, I passed some half marathoners, but during the race, I didn’t notice I caught up to any. I am sure the front runners were able to run into the half marathoners at halfway and it was probably likely they would be in the way. At some races I did, they would keep a small lane open for the marathoners to go through, so that the half marathoners would not block as the marathoners are running through.
The race was well run and we had good support throughout. It could match any big city race. One thing that bothered me a little bit was no mile markers posted for the first thirteen miles. Not that I needed them. If that is a thing for you, it could be a make-or-break moment. Aid stations kind of served as mile markers because they were roughly spaced at every two miles. This assumes you have studied the course to know where they are to get an accurate timing.
Having run many ultras, I forgot that the aid stations for marathons only have water and gatorade. This happened to me before. And seeing just water only was a bit disappointing. We had two early stations that had gels (mile 7 and 10 I think). Later, I went from station to station looking for more gels, and didn’t find any. I am spoiled by ultra races. Yes they published what aid stations of what each one had, but I didn’t keep them in mind. I missed the ultra style aid stations (food, real food, plus candies, sodas and all possible good stuff). I know, I should have carried my own goodies.
At the start, I was trying to gauge which pacing group I should join so as to keep my pace steady. The 4:45 finish was the slowest one available. I had a feeling that 4:30 would be too fast, even though that what the 4:45 pacer recommended me. I know I had run and finished at 4:15 before. However, I did not expect or plan to go for a PR (personal record breaking). I’d be lucky if I could finish under 5. The pacer asked me what is my expected time, and I told her possibly 6 hours. I really had no idea. I felt my body could only run this pace but logically I had run much faster in previous marathons. As the race started, I felt the 4:45 was even a bit rushed for me, so I decided to slow down. It seemed to be fine initially and soon I sped up and passed the 4:45 pace group and was on my way, hoping maybe I might be able to catch up to the 4:30 group as I had many times in other marathons.
Two miles in, I needed to use the bathroom. I felt I could probably hold it till the end, but then I wouldn’t like running with the constant urge to pee. Exactly why I didn’t go before the race start was beyond me. Runner curse, I tell you. I didn’t need to at the start is my excuse. I stopped at the first potta johns available. Luckily there was no line outside, so no waiting for me. I felt better afterward. Looking back, this little stop might have caused me to miss the 5 hour finish and I missed it by just 2 minutes, exactly the amount of time I used up.
I struggled by the time I got to the stations that had gels, maybe around mile 6. I carried some juicy fruit packages on me but didn’t bring gels. They were left in my car, because I didn’t think that I would need them. My game plan was off. The rest of the race was slow going. I had two ladies (never met before) as companions. At times I was ahead, but from time to time, they would catch back up. Looking back, my pace was slowing though during the race, I felt I kept it steady. The ladies, though can’t blame them, gave me a false sense that we were moving faster. Originally, the first 4-5 miles, I might have been on track for a 4:30 finish. By halfway, my pace was slipped to 4:45 finish. At the end, it came down to 5:00 finish. One of the two ladies passed me on the last mile. I was mostly walking by then. She was able to shuffle step to finish. I believed she must have finished under 5:00. I had initially thought I was way ahead of her.
I was not disappointed with my time. I felt grateful. At the start of the race, I had no clue if I could even finish around 5 hours. I felt it might be a 6 hour marathon or longer because two weeks before the race, I went out and did a 26 mile run and it took me 8 hours, granted that was on trails. If any are wondering as to why I did such a long run just before a marathon, I am training for a 100 mile, so we run long. Then after, I had almost two weeks with little to no running due to some personal issue (I think it was one of the side effects from the COVID vaccine, making me to be fatigued all the time). Having finished the race by noon was not bad. I felt like it was a win. Only that it took way more effort out of me to get there than anticipated. Actually it needed all my effort to get to the finish. I originally did not really want to go all out, because I need my body to recover fast for the next event.
I enjoyed some sightseeing as I ran. There were no skyscrapers or tall monuments (there was some historical stuff), not like in DC. The funny thing is I told my mom I was going to Newport News, and she initially thought I said Virginia Beach (which was nearby). She said she would attend my race if it was at Virginia Beach, since she could walk along the seashore, but Newport News, nope. She did not come. I wouldn’t blame her. There is nothing to see while waiting for me. Also because of her health, it would have worried me had she come along. Personally, I think this location is better than in Virginia Beach (we leave that other race unmentioned until in the future, if I happen to run it next year).
As for sightseeing, there are the shipbuilding yard and ports. It is just like any other industrial areas – warehouses and parking lots. Concrete. Sleepy town. Newport News is not a place people go for vacation. Some tourist areas I came across are CNU and the Mariner Museum. I like the lion bridge too and I think it is called something else. I like seeing the bay and bridges. That part probably my best portion of the course — granted that I was hitting the wall then, so I slowed down a whole lot to look around. I think it was around mile 15-16.
Things I liked the most during the race were DQ, Bojangles and McDonalds. Seriously. One volunteer later called me out at the finish and teased me as the guy who wanted a Dairy Queen ice cream. She said she remembered me because during the race I wanted to run into one of the fastfoods and get myself something refreshing, like a slurpy and ice cream. However, I feared though by leaving the course I would be disqualified. Everyone was looking at me, since the course was mostly empty but me. I would make the evening news if I get caught running to a McDonalds in the middle of a marathon. Free promotion, right? But it was not like I could sneak off course and come back. By the way, I did that before in some other marathons and got myself a breakfast (I won’t say which race), and that was before I knew the finer rules of racing. You just don’t run off to do your own thing because it would give the race director a heart attack if one of the runners is “missing”. Trail running are usually less strict in that you could run off (a bit) as long as you get back on where you exited, and without aids (like going to a gas station for food or bathroom is ok, as long as you don’t get in a car etc, though some races don’t allow outside aid or unplanned crew support), but still I shouldn’t do this kind of things.
We had plenty of crowd support given the small size of the race. It couldn’t be compared to DC or Baltimore or other big marathons. This was not a big city race, even though the stuff, swags, everything were as good or better than a big city race. Most of the time, the course felt empty, but I was a back end runner. Many times there was no one ahead and no one behind. Not many people kept at my pace, even the two companions. They had their own pace and kept to themselves whenever we passed each other. We probably only passed about four times in total. It was subdued and quiet. Roads were closed, and many times the whole one side of the streets was for us. There were no distractions. It felt luxurious. We technically could have run on the sidewalks. They could have reopened the roads after bulk of runners came through.
The day became hotter and the winds were stronger. Thanks to the winds, I was not overheating. I poured water on me whenever I remembered. At one station, they handed out ice soaked water towels and it was amazing. I wiped away the salt on me. Who knew it would get this hot in March. It was crazy weather, couple weeks ago, we had snow, and now it was summer weather, but I can’t complain. Normally, this time of year we would be running at near freezing temperatures. In fact we are going back to the snow season after (it is forecasted that we would have snow this week). I’d rather run when is hot than in the cold. I know many prefer the other way. If I was going for the record, I would prefer cooler weather.
We had neighbors coming out and watching the race. It was not much a crowd but enough to feel we were not running alone through empty streets. I felt special they were cheering just for me because I was the only one there at that point in time. Occasionally we passed a school and band students would play for us. Some neighbors set up their own aid stations in front of their yards. I loved them all. It was one buffet to the next. One even had a lazy chair for quitters only! That’s it, I’m staying I said. This was around mile 20. They saved me several times because I was too tired but their stations with fruits, snacks, beer and pepsi gave me a second life. I think they did it specifically for us tail-end runners. Imagine if they set them out earlier, the horde of the half marathoners and most of the marathoners would have cleared the tables and nothing would be left for us. There were at least a thousand runners ahead of me. Good aid stations were the sort of stuff I missed in a race. I was able to pull another mile before hitting the slump again.
The last couple miles though, no stations could revive me again. They were the hardest miles I had (I always say that in each marathon). A marathon takes everything out of you. Why did I sign up for this again, I asked? My feet were heavy. I passed the permanent street signs marking mile 25 and mile 26. I didn’t expect that. I would if I had remembered others race reports mentioned them. I think that was interesting the town makes it permanent that there will be a marathon here for the foreseeable future. Even though I know there was only a mile left, I was at 47th St and I needed to get to 25th St, the road seemed to go on forever. Someone joked that they didn’t know Newport News is this “long” (or big). Indeed all 26 miles long. A volunteer called to me, that the finish is just at the end of street, round the corner. I’d believe when I see it. At no point was I doubting that I wouldn’t finish but it was hard to will myself onward. That round the corner finish got me good — I didn’t start running again until I saw it, by then it was just a couple steps more.
Nothing felt better than crossing the finish line. I stayed a couple more hours longer, first to get food and then to watch the race for the 6th hour and 7th hour people. This is one of the races that gave out food. They gave us coupons that we redeemed at the food trucks. I loved everything even though I didn’t feel like eating. A banana is the usual stuff they give you at the finish, but good food is rare. I couldn’t eat much but it was still satisfying. Someone recommended the mac and cheese eggroll, and that was tasty. I’ve never eaten an eggroll filled with mac and cheese! Not a bad fusion.
I was inspired to see the last few runners came in. After I arrived, there were not many left on the course. Runners came in at an interval of 10-15 minutes apart. Then there was one who ran fast, and I thought it must be weird he came in near at the 7th hour. The announcer explained the guy had a medical emergency earlier and left the course but later he was able to come back and finish it in time. Normally, I believe this was considered to be a DQ (disqualified). He was allowed to continue. He was originally part of the top 5 runners. I was lucky to see how fast he could run.
When the last runner came in and all the race volunteers and staff lined up at the side of the road waiting and cheering. I think someone had called in ahead so everyone gathered along the road. We waited and I strained my eyes looking a mile down the street. Then I saw the truck convoy. I knew that they were the sweep vehicles, the sag wagon. Then I didn’t see any runners on the road. I though they would let the runners off the sag wagon so they would run the remaining .2 mile, but that wasn’t the case. Then I saw a runner walking on the sidewalk, I guess having the bus following behind her was too intimidating. She reached to chute area and everyone was directing her to walked back onto the road and we cheered. We all walked proudly together to the finish along side of her. It was like a standing ovation. Everyone was happy. I have been to many races and watched a few closings, but none compared to this one. Actually, out of 20 marathon races this was one was the best because I stayed to the very end. It was very moving. I felt the respect of the race organization and all those around paid to runners from the first to the last. It was uplifting. 26.2 miles no matter if it were a 2:20 marathon (race course record) or 7:20, the distance speaks for itself. Got to respect the distance.
Aftermath. As expected, I could hardly move afterward. Going up and down the stairs was painful. It would mean a few days off running. Originally, I wanted to head to Richmond immediately after the race for some good vietnamese food, my soul food. Because of the soreness, I didn’t want to walk to my car, so that side trip to Richmond was canceled. The drive back was tiring and I wished my car was a self-driving vehicle. The rest of the evening, was to get to bed as quickly as possible. I had a quick dinner, I was still much hungry when I went to bed, but I was too tired to eat more.
Here am I thinking, what is the point of me doing marathons. I know ultimately I run because I enjoy doing so. What do my readers want to know from me? I can’t tell any secrets or tips I learned from this race. Running is a private affair. Many thoughts went between my head during the race, but they are gone now. I don’t feel bad about that. To me that time alone is like in a state of joy (worship). Even I finished and tired and felt it was time well spent. Countless people and volunteers made it possible. I spent that 5 hours on the course and countless hours months before in training. It’s all worth it. Today, I got something clearer. Sometimes, we do it because we only know to keep one foot ahead of another and that is the only thing we need to do. In a marathon when I don’t want to go on and things are going south, the only way we can get to the finish line is to keep on walking forward. This I think is the lesson I have to relearn.
Bringing it home, I have been planning a trip for next year and some big goals like walking across the US. Life is many times messier than a marathon. I wrote in the last post, I don’t want to do it any more, but maybe I just need to keep going, who knows how it will turn out. My friend messaged me, asking if I’ll be running the JFK50 this year because the signup has just opened, we will see. I can only take the steps currently in front of me.