Saturday, November 28, 2015

Atlanta Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon Recap

The few days leading up to the race, the prevailing thought going through my head was, "Why did I sign up for a half marathon on Thanksgiving Day??" And not only why did I sign up for a race on Thanksgiving Day, but on the same day that I committed to cooking my first Thanksgiving meal for myself and my friends in Atlanta.  Maybe I would have been feeling a bit better if I hadn't had an unexpectedly long and hectic work day on Wednesday when I was originally going to be off.

Nonetheless, I wasn't feeling too great going into the race.  I hadn't been hydrated, stretching, getting in long runs, and eating all the crap food you can possibly think of.  But, I got myself into bed and prepped my running things the night before.

I got up early in the morning to head over to Turner Field early for the start of the race at 7:30 a.m.  All these Atlanta races always warn of terrible traffic, but when I picked up my bib the day before, the traffic wasn't terrible so I wasn't expecting much on Thursday morning.  However, it was the worst I'd seen on traveling to a race.

My pre-race routine was all over the place as well.  I ran back and forth to my car about 5 times, grabbing things from friends and putting them in my car.  Changing my clothes because I thought I needed a warmer top.  Grabbing my watch because I forgot it.  And so on and so on.  I met up with the Movers and Pacers literally for a split second to pop into a picture and then darted back to my car one final time and jumping into the race corrals a few minutes before the start.

I still had yet to decide how I wanted to run the race and the fact that my warm up/race prep was so abnormal I just felt totally out of whack.  When I jumped into the corrals I saw my friends Robyn and Sheba who I knew were planning to run together.  I sort of figured, okay, what the heck, let me just run with the two of them.  And that was my plan, or so I thought.

I danced through the wait of the start line (some things can't ever be changed) and clicked my watch on as we crossed the start.  As soon as we did I heard my friends say that they weren't going to be talking through the race and that they were going to run together but just listen to their music.  When I heard that I thought, "Aww..." and immediately rethought my choice to run with them, which would be a slower pace than what is my comfortable pace.  I told myself to stay with them a mile and then decide.

A mile in, I decided to stop holding back and just run a comfortable pace for the race.  I still didn't aim to push it, but just wanted to do what felt good for my legs and body.  And when I saw the first water stop, I decided to walk through it.  I have never walked through a water stop in my life during a race, but wanted to see what it felt like for my legs.  In the past, I have struggled stopping in the middle of a run and starting up again.  However, it is good to revisit things from time to time.  I walked through that first water stop and every water stop throughout the race from that time on.

I felt good and knew that I was running about 9 minute miles which was when I decided to set my goal to be run a "2-ish" hour race.  I knew that I would have to make up the time from the first mile and knew that it was a hilly route, so just kept myself at ease with the "2-ish" thought sticking in my head.

Much of the route was familiar routes to me.  We ran through our Flagship route and along some of the roads that I would run in the mornings with my friends.  We ran through Atlantic Station and through Piedmont Park.  I kept psyching myself out about the miles that I had left throughout the run.  And event at mile 6 I could already feel myself hurting a bit. I ate some Gu Chomps and hoped for the best, telling myself to ease back on pace if I needed.  Remember, "2-ish" meant that being after 2 hours would be okay.  I had nothing to prove on this race and didn't want to get hurt.

I struggled with the water throughout the race too.  There were not a ton of water stops and I also had no idea when/where they would be so I was unsure of when to expect them. One of the most amazing things about the Chicago Marathon was the amount of water stops and also the fact that before the stops they would have a sign that said "Water Stop Ahead" which prompted me to get ready for it.  The Gu Chomps that I eat throughout the course or the salt tabs, all need water to take with them.  So when you don't know when a water stop will be, it is hard to prepare to eat.  Walking through the water stops definitely helped in during the race.  In some cases, I would take a cup of water, walk for a bit chewing my Gu Chomps and then chugging my water.  I took Powerade at one stop but it must have been made with a mix but was really watered down and barely even tasted like Powerade.

I could feel my pace dropping at mile 7.  The fact that I was halfway through was scary not comforting.  I still have to do that all over again??  And, man, oh man, the hills.

The most I have run since the Chicago Marathon is 9 miles.  I did 8 last weekend, so getting to 8 and 9 was a good mental victory.  At 9.5 miles the hill was a true beast.  It took everything in me to not walk up the hills and I started telling myself the mantra that I used when I ran the Nashville Half Marathon way back when for my very first endurance distance race.  "Pace the race. Survive the hills. You're finishing this thing."

Seriously, the hills at the end were insane.

After the hill at 9.5 I told myself, "There can't be more hills ahead.  It's gotta be all clear from here." and then we would turn a corner and there would be another hill.  Hill after hill after hill.  It was so challenging.  When I hit 10 miles I thought, "Only a 5K left" and looked at my watch to calculate the time to see how close I would be to 2 hours.  I had realized around 9 that it would probably be closer than I thought.  And when I saw that at 10 miles I had to run a 26 minute 5K in order to break 2 hours, for a split second I thought it was possible. And then I turned a corner and saw another hill and realized, yeah, let's go back to the idea of "2-ish"

I still didn't let myself all out push hard because I didn't want to be dead and out of breathe and hurting at the end for a time that didn't mean anything.  This race was about running the distance, not about setting a PR or even getting under 2 hours.  Yes it would be great to have that be my comfortable pace from here out, but that wasn't what I was aiming to do.  For a race that I wasn't super prepared for, that I had run at a slower pace the first mile, and on a day when I had a ton of plans afterwards, I just let myself finish whereever I landed.

The hills were there until the very end.

When I pull the graph with the elevation, I don't know why it isn't more drastic because I swear those hills were a beast.  This was seriously the most challenging course I remember running.

Finishing the race strong was a fight.  It was a mental battle.  And to anyone who says to me, "After a marathon, this must feel like nothing!" about a half marathon, they are wrong.  It is still a challenge.  It is still extremely hard.  It is still something that I have to fight to get through.  This race was definitely proof of that.  I had to push hard mentally to get myself through it and I wasn't even running at a hard pace!  I was just running.

When a race gets hard I find myself looking at my watch a lot to see how much further I have left.  Mile 11 to 12 seemed like it went on forever.  I kept telling myself, "Just get to 12 and then you'll only have one mile left!" and it felt like it was so long to get there.  When I got to the home stretch it seemed to go on for so long.  I saw the Olympic rings and told myself that I could look at my watch when I got to the rings and yet, I must have looked at my watch 3 times between where I was when I first said it and when I got to the rings that hung above the street.  My watch was a little ahead of the race course and at 13.1 miles my watch said 2:01:06 as the official time.  However, the course went a little longer.

Right after the rings I saw all the Movers and Pacers crew cheering along and I couldn't wait to get over there and join them.  I made a plan to finish, go to my car, drop off my things and get my vest, and then go cheer with my friends.  I was looking forward to that as I crossed the finish line.

Half marathon #7 complete!

The finish had you walking a long way to get the snack box and I opted to skip it.  I went right from the finish over to my car.  They gave you a jacket to put on at the end of the race, which was awesome, but I opted not to use it and save it as a throw away for a future race.  I snacked on an apple and a banana and drank some water and went and joined the most supportive running crew in Atlanta as we cheered on the rest of the finishers.  It was a blast and I was also so proud of all the crew members who had run their very first half marathon that day.  The race also had a 5K with it so a number of my friends had done that option also.  I was so regretting not choosing the 5K before the race started, but I was pretty happy with my accomplishment afterwards.

We cheered for all the runners that went by, especially so for our crew members.  It was so much fun and I love, love, love cheering at races.  As you know I've been out to cheer at a few of the Atlanta races recently - the Michelob 13.1 and then the Atlanta 10-miler.  Both of those were pretty challenging races and one of my friends in the Atlanta running community has been teasing me about skipping all the hard Atlanta races this season and only cheering at those.  Well, I think that's a silly thing to say at all since my goal race for the season was Chicago and I don't think I should be getting teased for working my race schedule around that goal.  And also, who doesn't like someone cheering??  I don't want to be teased for that, I do it to help people.  Oh well.  I love to cheer when I am not running.  Whether it is after I have finished a race or a race that is not a part of my plan.

I love this pic in front of the sign from the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.  It says, "Olympic athletes and Atlantans stand proud.  We approach any race with dignity, we endure setbacks with honor, we persist with enthusiasm, we are a city of winners."

This is a city of winners and I loved starting my Thanksgiving off with a HALF MARATHON instead of a 5K in past years.  I miss my friends at our annual Gobble Wobble but I thought of them along the route.  When I hit the 5K mark and when I had 5K left, I thought, "There's the Gobble Wobble!"  With a year where I hit so many goals and big achievements, a half marathon was a great way to start the day.  And between the slow first mile, the hills, the lack of training and hydration, and all that - a 2:02:25 finish was something I was super happy with!

My first year of running, 2010, I did my first Gobble Wobble 5K with my friends and finished in 38:16, which is a 12:19 pace.  This year I ran a 21K at a pace of 9:20.  That is 3 minutes faster per mile.  Had you told myself that in 2010 I would have thought you were crazy.  I am thankful for this blog to help me remember and keep in perspective how far I have come.  It's all here in living proof!

Thanksgiving Half - you were a beast, but I loved it!

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