Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mercedes Marathon Relay Recap

Back in November, Brick and I were hanging out one day and tried to think of new states we could go run in. Locally, a big race not too far from here that we knew of people running every year was the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama (about 2 hours from Atlanta.)

The race weekend includes a 5K, Half Marathon, Marathon and a Marathon Relay.  We threw a few ideas around and ended up on Thanksgiving Day, pulling in our friends India and Janet, and decided to do the Marathon Relay. Not long afterwards, our 5th runner was identified in our friend Robyn, and our marathon relay team and girls weekend group was set! None of us had spent any time in Birmingham before (I had never even been to Alabama) so we decided to go out early on Saturday morning, spend the day, and then do the race on Sunday morning.

Long story short was that we had an awesome time. Our group meshed together perfectly, we had great conversation on every topic from politics, race relations, career, music, TV, and of course running. We laughed, acted silly, danced in places where nobody else was dancing, and everyone was just agreeable to do whatever. On the way out we stopped at the Georgia/Alabama border to take pictures because this was a new state for me to enter and I wanted to document. And as I do, these ladies appreciate a good photo op (second photo styled by Brickney.)

When we first arrived, we checked into the hotel and went over to the race expo. I booked a hotel last minute and was able to get one still at a good price right a few blocks from the start/finish of the race and the race expo, which worked out perfectly. However, the race expo left a little to be desired so we didn’t stay there long. They had beer samples and some photo ops, which was my favorite part, but not a ton of vendors or things to really do there. We'd also heard rumors of BBQ at the expo but none was spotted by me. Lines to get bibs and everything else went very smoothly though and they also offered the ability to try on and swap T-shirt sizes, which is always appreciated and I have seen that more and more at races I have done lately (NYC Marathon and Hot Chocolate 15K both allowed for this.)

We walked from the race expo to a place for lunch that had been recommended by my cousin’s girlfriend and we had a delicious, although somewhat random meal at Purple Onion. It was probably the longest 1.5 mile walk we’ve ever done and left us wondering what more Birmingham had to offer. The food was delicious though!

After lunch at the Purple Onion, we decided to Uber back and ended up with an awesomely fun Uber driver to pulled over at a moment’s notice to provide us with another opportunity for a fun photo op. Usually in my life I am getting teased all the time by my friends by my need to document things and take a lot of pictures so I love when my friends are just as crazy about not letting a good photo opportunity go to waste as I am. Again, photo was styled by Brickney :)

Our next stop was the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was somewhere all of us wanted to be able to stop by to pay our respects. On Sunday, September 15th in 1963, members of the KKK planted 15 sticks of dynamite in the basement of the African American 16th Street Baptist Church, which was detonated by a timer and killed four little girls at the church. If anyone has seen the moving Selma, the very beginning of that moving film depicts this bombing at the church. Martin Luther King Jr. called this "one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity" and it was a turning point in the civil rights movement in the United States. I have only learned of this crime (I don't ever remember it being taught in Northeastern schools...) from visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights museum in Atlanta, which has a great memorial there and information on terrorist act and actions afterwards. It was heartbreaking but important to visit this church in Birmingham and pay respects to this part of history - which we are still very much fighting today unfortunately. Even in June 2015 there was a massive shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. It is devastating that things like this are still happening.

Following our visit to the church we returned to the hotel and rested a bit before I head out with India to stop by gatherings with two other groups of runners in Atlanta. First was the group that I am now training with - including seeing my triathlon coach, who was running the full marathon. We also saw a group of friends of ours from Atlanta who we ended up eating with, before returning back to meet up with the rest of our group for a couple drinks and shenanigans at a restaurant near our hotel.

The Race Itself

Sunday morning started very early and in my mind I was joking a little bit thinking about how the race was like the NYC Marathon - where I had to get up sooo early in the morning but wouldn't even be running until many hours later.  The night before we had timed out when we thought everyone would be running their specific legs and what time they would be at the checkpoints. Our order went Brickney running 6 miles, India running 3, Robyn running 6, Janet running 3, me running 8 miles.

7:00 - Brickney Starts
8:00 - India Starts
8:35 - Robyn Starts
9:41 - Janet starts
10:15 - Katelyn starts
11:35 - Team finishes!

My checkpoint was 3 miles from the start/finish line and there was a shuttle that would take you to the checkpoint but it left at 6:35 a.m.!! There was no way I was getting on a bus at 6:35 am to not even run until 10:15 am. I opted to just risk it and figure out a way to get there on my own. However, I was still up early as the rest of our team was up early.

We all walked to the start together at about 6:15 am and India and Robyn both left to go get on their shuttle buses, whereas Janet and I stayed with Brick until we saw her off at the start. It was a pretty quiet race start and it wasn't until about 10-15 minutes before 7:00 a.m. that it seemed like people actually showed up and got into the race corrals. We had fun, as we always do, making our own scene and dancing and laughing while we waited to see Brickney start off the race.

It was already warm even early in the morning and we were shedding layers before even starting. It was fun to watch the race start and see all the people I knew run out of the start line, but also a little weird feeling since this was a race I was running, but I wasn't even going to be starting for hours. I was able to capture one of my favorite running photos ever of Brick as she ran by us though!

After the runners went through, Janet and I returned to the hotel to relax a bit and actually funnily enough watch some of the race coverage on TV. It was definitely a bit disorienting to watch the race that you are running on TV while it is happening, but it made for a funny text message to my friends.

After a little over an hour we went back out, for Janet to walk to her start, and for me to figure out a way to get the 3 miles over to where I needed to be. It was still early and I had plenty of time so I wasn't too worried.  I went over to the area where the shuttles had been leaving from earlier and I actually was able to snag a ride on a shuttle to the start after it brought back some runners. And even luckier, it was the shuttle that brought Brick back after finishing her leg so we were able to say hello. She absolutely CRUSHED her leg of the race, running her fastest pace ever for her 6 miles and I was so proud of her! I love the feeling of feeling proud of your friends.I know how good it feels to work hard for something and to see that pay off is such a good feeling. I was already so excited about the day after Brick's leg of the race.

I was tracking our team and my triathlon coach through text messages and was happy to see that everyone was going right on time with what we had predicted. India had a great run, as did Robyn. Once I made it out to the checkpoint where I would be starting, I sat on the ground for a bit and watched a few videos on my phone, talked to some of the other runners, and then started cheering once the racers started to pass us. First the really fast people came then more and more waves of runners came through. Mercedes Marathon has people's names on their bibs for the full marathoners so everyone who came through, I cheered for by name. I was running the last 8 miles of the race, which meant that the people who were coming through were at mile 18 of the marathon. It's such a rough spot because you've already run SO MANY MILES and you still SO MANY TO GO!

At this point I was getting antsy to run but was also enjoying cheering, as I always do. Since I was tracking my coach, I knew when he would be coming through the marathon route, and it actually was not too far in front of where my friends were. I walked up a bit on the course to be able to see him and another one of the coaches from our group was riding his bike alongside on the route for encouragement. My coach was not having his best day, which happens, and he walked for a bit when he saw me and wished me luck and reminded me to run really easy because of the hip pain I have been having lately.

It amazed me that while in the MIDDLE of his own marathon, he still had any energy to focus on trying to coach me! I walked with him a bit and he told me "DO NOT catch up with me! Even though I am going slow!" and I wished them luck and hung around 5-10 minutes more until Janet came through to pass along our race belt and send me off on the run.

She was pretty much exactly on time, so right at about 10:15 I head off on my leg of the marathon relay - which was miles 18-26.

This was now my 2nd time running the last leg of a marathon relay and I knew what to expect - that the marathoners would be hurting - and I'd be flying through comfortably - so I knew one of my goals was to cheer for everyone else, as I had been at the checkpoint.  My only other goal with running these 8 miles were to do so without pain.  I had only run 3 miles (on the treadmill!) in the past 10 days as I have been having some hip pain but had been feeling good in the few days leading up to the race.

From the moment I started running, I felt awesome. I could tell right away that I had a LOT of adrenaline running through me - which a 3.5 hour build up until your run can do for you. I had to hold back a lot because I knew I needed to keep my pace under control for the run. I had the longest and also hilliest portion of this race and my only goal was to really not hurt myself so I had to remember to pull back a lot.

The miles felt good and I cheered for everyone I could - seriously smiling and feeling so happy while I ran. Maybe it was those 10 days off, but I had the biggest runners high from the very beginning and just had SO MUCH FUN every mile that I ran of this race. I talked to people, told everyone I passed they were doing great, said thank you to every police officer, and interacted with the few people who were out cheering and riling up the crowds for the other runners. It was seriously so much fun. This picture is how I was the entire 8 miles, I swear.

When I was about 4.5 miles in, I saw my coach, whose name is Jerome, up ahead, and another coach Adam, riding his bike alongside him. I knew I was going to catch up and felt bad because Jerome was just not having his best day and I know how hard that can be. I have only been working with him for 1.5 months so was unsure how to motivate or cheer for him, since it is usually the other way around! When I caught up, I stopped and walked with him a little and chatted about the day. Again, he was concerned about asking how I was doing and my hip, teasing me that he'd told me not to catch up to him. Adam and Jerome encouraged me to keep going if I was feeling okay and introduced me to one of their other friends who was out on the course running his first marathon. I ran with their friend for a little too but when he started walking as well, I kept going. My body is not too good at stopping and starting so I didn't want to mess anything up when I was feeling so good running with no pain.

The hills came and went and were really nothing too challenging given what I am used to running in Atlanta. When I got towards the end, I started to see some of the other people that I knew who had run the half marathon who were now out on the course cheering. It was fun to have people out supporting and one of the guys ran with me for a little bit in his flips flops and then I paused to take a selfie with him before continuing to the finish.

With about a quarter of a mile or so left, I saw Janet, who jumped in and ran towards the finish with me. We saw a few more people that we knew and I was still just feeling the happiest ever and loved having Janet with me. She asked how I was doing and I said I felt great - although when she asked if I wanted to sprint to the finish, I told her definitely not. Again - my only goal here was to not get hurt and was not trying to do anything crazy by pushing it in that last leg of the race.

India, Robyn, and Brick were all waiting for us at the finish. So once we got there, we all reunited and hung around a bit at the end of the race before getting ready to leave.  We had finished the marathon relay in about 4:29, which was exactly in line with what we expected. I think it goes to show how experienced we are at this stuff at this point that we were all able to predict our paces so exactly and run to that exact pace.  We all were pretty exact to what we had mapped out/planned the night before, almost down to the minute!  I was super proud of my team and so happy that this marathon relay weekend had come together as it had, after Brick and I originally schemed about it back in November on my couch one afternoon. Sometimes it is hard to coordinate things and get people organized but this had worked out so well.

After we hung around the finish for a bit, saw Jerome finish, and checked in with those friends at the end, we head back to our hotel room to shower and check out.  Before driving back, we stopped for a delicious brunch and then made our way back to Atlanta.

Personally, this race wasn't any sort of record breaking pace or anything like that but I was really proud of myself. First off, I cannot reiterate enough how happy I felt to be running every one of those miles during the race. It just felt great and I had so much fun. It reminded me a bit about when I ran the San Francisco Half Marathon with my friend Allie in 2015 where the race wasn't really about me or my pace, it was about other people and sharing the joy of running. I think that's what made it so special for me... it wasn't a race to PR or push myself. I was doing it because I love running and I love sharing it with other people.

My mile splits were: 9:27/9:36/9:39/9:32/10:32/9:29/9:44/9:40/9:36

The splits are super consistent even with the hills and the miles where the pace is a bit longer is when I stopped to walk with others or paused to say hello. I loved this and would definitely do the marathon relay again in the future!

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