I will be posting twice about my experience running the Richmond Marathon – the first being a review of the race in terms of how it was organized and executed, and the second being a personal account of “my race”. This post will be the more objective race review. For those searching the internet for reviews of the Richmond Marathon but don’t necessarily want to read about my poor hydration and quad pain, this is the post for you.
From the beginning of the race, I was impressed with the crowd control and how easy accessing the starting gate was. There was enough stress leading up to my first marathon, so the last thing I wanted to do was to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other runners in a corral for 15 minutes. Instead, I was able to stretch outside of the corral and easily walk in when it was time for my wave. Compared to past races, it was unbelievably easy to get in and not have runners breathing down your neck.
Race organizers can’t control the weather and unfortunately Richmond received rain the night prior and it continued to drizzle throughout the morning. The rain was enough to keep the road surface wet for the entirety of the race. I wouldn’t say it was a major problem, but there were parts of Riverside Drive where the pavement felt concerningly slippery as well as a very steep downhill on River Road by the University of Richmond.
Immediately following the steep, potentially slippery downhill was the first of Richmond’s fantastic party zones for spectators. These cheering areas are a great way to enliven stretches of the course that spectators might not typically go. The University of Richmond party zone was great because the next 7 miles were pretty barren, so it was nice to have some encouragement before that stretch. Unfortunately, I didn’t see my parents at the first party zone, but about ¾ of a mile later I ran into them on the bridge. Turns out the party zone was so popular that they couldn’t get to the parking lot due to congestion and lack of parking. This sounds like a negative, and I suppose it is for the spectators, but for race organizers, too much spectator support is a great problem to have.
I was also a fan of Richmond’s bibs having the runner’s name visible below the race number. I’ve run races with bibs like this, but I’ve never seen so many spectators cheering for runners by name. In Richmond, about 8-10 people encouraged me by name while I ran by them. For a first time marathoner who was definitely struggling with muscle cramping toward the end, it was really nice to hear random people cheering me on. During the race, I couldn’t help but laugh at how I had joked about Richmond calling itself “America’s Friendliest Marathon”, but with each mile, that slogan became increasingly true.
Additionally, the volunteers at the water stations were absolutely great – and there were A TON of them! The water stations were about every mile and each staffed by a minimum of about 15 people. I didn’t think to count, but there were some massive water stations with probably 20+ volunteers. Some of the best volunteer support I have seen in a race.
The overall course route was beautiful. I loved the progression of neighborhoods. We got quite the tour of Richmond’s different areas – downtown’s great historic buildings, VCU and surrounding student rental houses (which were really nice), gorgeous Riverside Drive alongside the James River, and West Main Street. I had never been to Richmond before, so it was entirely new to me. It reminded me somewhat of Providence, RI, which I loved.
The overall course was consistently hilly. There were a few noteworthy large hills, but the gradual ups/downs were the real killer on my legs. I don’t think that it was uncharacteristically hilly, but I was not prepared for it. I have been training on DC’s very flat running trails for the last 4 months, so I think my perception of “hilly” is a little skewed. Regardless, Richmond does have hills and you should be aware of that.
I would have been happy with pretty much any finish line come mile 26.2, but Richmond did a great job with the final approach to the finish line. It is probably a quarter mile downhill lined the whole way with spectators. I’ve seen some complaints about this section of the course from people who struggled to push past the pain of running downhill after 26 miles. I was lucky in the sense that the downhill seemed to help my leg pain, so no complaints from me on that end.
For a first marathon, the placement of the finish line was perfect. After you make the final turn, you can look down the final stretch of the spectator-lined course to the giant finish line. After so many months of training, it was really nice to have those couple minutes to savor the final few tenths of a mile. It was the most memorable finish line I’ve ever run through.
The only major critique I had was the hard to find “meet up” area. Typically at races there are poles with letters to help family and friends locate each other after the race. Richmond did have these, but they seemed like an afterthought – tucked as far away from everything as possible. I didn’t find them until after I sat around for about 15 minutes and then walked around looking for someone I knew. I found my Kathleen and Mike well before I found the meet up area. In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t a big deal at all.
Richmond really lived up to their motto as “America’s Friendliest Marathon”. For a first-time marathoner, I think it included all of the extras that helped to alleviate stress and make me feel comfortable. It definitely didn’t scare me away from running marathons in the future! Great race, great city and above all great people (organizers, volunteers, hotel staff who returned my Nike GPS watch that I left in my sheets, spectators and runners). #runrichmond