Thursday, March 23, 2017

Atlanta Georgia Publix Half Marathon 2017 Race Recap

On Sunday morning I ran the Atlanta Publix Half Marathon for the third time and I am happy to say that it was a redemption year from last year's race and a truly awesome day. It is the only big race I have done multiple times and every year it continues to be really memorable. I was really looking forward to the Publix race weekend as it is a our big hometown race and really brings out all of the different running and triathlon groups to race or spectate. I ran into friends from every different group and every different club both on the course and off, which really made it so enjoyable. In addition, now that I live in the city, I know the neighborhood and route much better (we run by where I live!)

As much as I was looking forward to it, I was also a bit nervous as the past two years of running this race had been two very different experiences for me, with the most recent, being a not so good one. In 2015, Publix was a target race for me - I trained with a group with the goal of breaking 2 hours and I succeeded, finishing in 1:57:52.  This time has remained just about my half marathon PR, having only broken 2 hours one other time, which was a year later at the Miami Half Marathon where I ran 4 seconds faster in 1:57:48.

In 2016, the not so good experience, was in the middle of training for my first Half Ironman, I ran this race and felt terrible. I finished in about 2:13, felt in so much pain, had to walk some of the hills, and was really demoralized and upset at the end of the race. It scared me a lot as I realized how much I felt like I still needed to do in order to prepare for Chattanooga and really gave me a lot of anxiety leading up to that race.

Leading up to Publix this year, I have been working hard and know that I am in good shape - but I did not know what to expect as far as a time goes for the race. Outside of the track workouts I do each week, I haven't been running fast. My easy runs are around 10:00 minute miles and the only recent long runs I have done have been on the trails, where my pace is more around 10:40. On top of that I've been dealing with hip pain at times, and due to that have only really gotten my long runs up to 9 miles or so. I knew that it would be a confidence boost if I could redeem myself from last year and run a strong race at Publix, but I honestly didn't know if I had it in me. And I also didn't want to cut back on any of my training in order to taper for Publix.

As I was trying to decide what to do last week, the main coaches from the group I am training with called and asked what my goal was for the race. He said that he thought I had been running really strong at the track workouts and suggested we run together and he would pace me for whatever I was trying to accomplish. At the time I still wasn't sure entirely what I wanted to do as I was debating whether or not to participate in a big group bike ride that was taking place the day BEFORE Publix. However, after talking it through with my personal coach, I decided on my plan for the weekend -which was to bike 65 miles on Saturday at an organized group ride called the Tour de Pike and THEN do my best to run a strong race on Sunday, aiming for around 2 hours. I decided to take Adam up on his offer to pace me.

The ride on Saturday ended up being a really tough day - it was my longest bike ride this season by 20 miles, and it also downpoured rain. It was cold and rainy for the first few hours and then when the rain dropped down, the wind picked up. We had head winds and cross winds and it was really difficult to ride in aero position and sometimes I felt like I was getting blown off the road in a way that I hadn't experienced on the bike before. I ended up finishing in a little over 4 hours, with an average speed of 15.5 which is a decent speed for such a long ride for me and my fastest speed at that distance ever. I have only done 65 mile rides a few times and never ridden in the rain so it was a big accomplishment!

But I still had the half marathon on Sunday ahead of me and on Saturday evening I was feeling pretty nervous. My legs felt okay, but my whole body was tired. So I knew that I needed to do the best to take care of myself and focus on my mental strength for the race. I reread my blogs from the past two years of Publix, I lay out my clothing and prepped my nutrition the night before, and went to bed early. Getting up in the morning and Ubering to the race (note to self for next year: it was surge pricing in the morning, so maybe plan for something else!)

I met up with the ITL group at their tent. I was given a blue tank to wear over my shirt, which would make it my first time running in ITL gear. I felt a little nervous about that if I am being honest... all the ITL athletes I know are really fast and impressive. Just putting on the team gear for the first time and representing them in this big race, I have to say intimidated me a little bit. It felt like there was something to uphold by running in the ITL brand. It felt good knowing that for this first time doing it, I would have the head of the organization running with me. Despite feeling so welcomed by everyone, I still often have to get over intimidation that creeps up in my own mind and the fact that Adam was running this race with me really made me feel like I belonged.

Last year before Publix started I hung out by myself in Starbucks. The year before I sat in my car. Both times I met up with a few people or said hello to either Movers + Pacers or Running Nerds, but this year felt like a totally different thing. I was a part of a team.

I went over to the start line with Adam, my coach Jerome, my friend Kristin, and a few other individuals from our group. I jumped up and down a bit to warm up, got my watch ready, and before we knew it we were off. The first miles were really crowded. There was a lot of dodging around people and I was just doing my best to not trip over others and keep Adam’s blue shirt in my sights. From the very start we were seeing people that we knew in the crowd of runners. We passed a number of other ITL runners and I saw my friends Ayanna and Diana cheering, as well as others from various running groups I know throughout Atlanta early on.

Once we cleared the herd a bit, we got into a rhythm and Adam was in charge of keeping pace and my job was to just stick with him. We started talking and continued to say hello to people that we knew, as I saw my friend Shawn and my nutritionist Ilana on the course. Adam told me stories about the early days of ITL and how he got to know the other coaches in the group. I told about my running friends and the various groups I had been a part of.

I never looked at my watch once and never questioned what pace we were running. I was just very much enjoying the run and was feeling good.  He could tell I was feeling good and commented on that, every now and then reminding me, “Easy… easy…” in order to not go out too fast. Aside from commenting that our first mile was around 10:30 and that we hit one of the hills at 8:30, I didn't ask or question what our pace was and Adam didn't share much. I honestly wasn't even tempted to look at my own watch. I was just enjoying the sun shining, running and chatting with friends, and the atmosphere and crowd all over. The picture below is how I feel like I was for the majority of the race! Just waving hello to people and doing my thing.

When we went through some of the aid stations, I took some of my Gu Chomps, with Adam actually volunteering to navigate the water stations and grabbing what I needed for me. My legs started to feel a little heavy as we entered into Little Five Points but I didn't acknowledge it out loud. Adam has run this race more times than me and had told me we could pick up some time on some of the downhill coming out of L5P and I think the change of pace recharged my legs. As did running into more people that we knew, including 3 ITL athlete and friends who were pushing a wheelchair athlete - smiling and laughing the whole time.

We made it through Freedom Park Trail and into Virginia Highlands and then into Piedmont Park. This race really does give you an amazing tour of what Atlanta has to offer. More memories came back from the years running prior, more running into people along the course we knew, and still I felt good. My legs definitely were starting to fatigue a bit, which I may have said out loud at this point, but we were still talking and running as we had been the whole time.

As we rounded out towards the exit to Piedmont Park, I asked Adam how he was doing. I felt selfish not asking earlier and having this race be so much about me. I knew it was a meaningful weekend and race for him as well and wanted to be sure he was doing good. He's been recovering from injury and we had discussed that he'd take me as far as he could. At around mile 9 before exiting the park, Adam tasked one of other ITL athletes, Zach, who had been running with us as well how he was feeling. Zach said he was feeling good, so Adam told him to take me to the finish and said he was going to drop back. He told Zach, "She is on pace to PR. Well on track to PR. Just keep going."

It happened really quick that Adam dropped back and we were on our own and I shouted thank you to Adam and ran on for a second as what he said then registered with me, "Huh? Did he say I was WELL on track to PR? How fast were we running??"

I literally hadn't thought to look at my watch once and still did not want to look down and actually see where we were as far as pace goes. I just wanted to stay steady. I was getting super nervous that I would somehow mentally psych myself out or mess up now that I had this awareness of how I was doing. Plus, there are a lot of hills packed into the last 4 miles of this route!

Zach started chatting with me right away and although it was getting harder to breathe up the hills, I talked back. We passed more friends of mine cheering and I just did my best to keep at the pace we were running. As we headed through Midtown, over the highway and into the Georgia Tech campus,I knew my least favorite hill was coming and warned Zach of it. He was a super champ and continued supporting me throughout, doing what Adam had done for me as well, and grabbing water at the stops so I could keep going.

As we finished the race, I could hear the finish before I saw it and was willing it to be as close as possible. I hadn't seen mile markers in a while but knew the route well enough to know we were nearly there. Throughout the whole race I hadn't felt any pain in my hip, but a slight twinge in that last mile. I kept running steady and didn't try to sprint much, not wanting to aggravate it as we rounded the last corner and to the finish line, I hit my watch and glanced down at it for the first time since I turned it on. 1:56 was what I saw. I didn't know my official time, but like Adam said, I was well under a PR!

I didn't really react right away, just kept walking with Zach, who said his watch was 1:55-something, caught my breathe and grabbed the post-race items that they were handing out. I felt good and not in pain or like I was going to collapse/die/pass-out as I have at the end of some races with really tough efforts. And I also didn't have that immediate feeling of accomplishment and excitement of getting a PR. It almost felt like I was in a bit of disbelief. And I also don't think it hit me right away of how to react because it wasn't something that I had been trying for in this race - it just sort of happened without me expecting it!

We watched some ITL people come through the finish and then returned over to the tent where some of the athletes who had already finished were hanging out. I heard someone say "Oh! Here comes Katelyn!" as we walked up. Adam was there already and they were waiting to hear how it went. It was a great feeling to tell the group that I had PR-ed by about two minutes and everyone cheered for me. Adam gave me a hug and congratulated me and it was an awesome feeling. It hit me for the first time at that moment how well I did and every minute and hour from that point on in the day, I got more and more excited and happy about how the race went. My mile splits for the race were: 9:47 / 8:55 / 9:03 / 8:55 / 8:42 / 7:39 / 8:28 / 8:38 / 8:09 / 8:34 / 8:36 / 8:44 / 8:37 / 7:28.

Now, a few days post race, I am still so happy. I had such a fun day on Saturday. And this entire weekend. Honestly, the fact that I got a personal best time in the half marathon was just a cherry on top of a really positive weekend for me. Looking back at it, the support I received throughout the whole weekend - start to finish - from the coaches and other athletes within the group, as well as my friends and people I know from other groups, made me feel so good. And I loved the progress I was able to see in myself. To run a best time by 2 minutes the day after a tough 65 mile bike? And to do it feeling as good as I did? Really shows me that I have been making improvements and getting stronger.

It was so incredible to feel the support of this community. Throughout the weekend, my coach Jerome listened to me as I stressed about what to do, told me that he was confident in me, checked in with me, gave me advice and recommendations, and supported me throughout everything. I was so excited to see him after the race and tell him how I did. I felt really grateful that Adam reached out, offered to run with me, and chose to spend what is a special race weekend for him, helping me achieve something. Something that I didn't even think to reach for on my own but that he had seen in me! Whether it was inviting me to join that Saturday group bike ride itself, carpooling, sharing of clothing, or keeping me going for the last 4 miles of the race (!!!), all of the other athletes in ITL, who have only known me a few months, all made this weekend so special and fun to me because I really felt like a part of the team. The support, generosity and welcoming attitudes are something that I have found in some of my friendships in Atlanta but has been mostly lacking for me within the triathlon community.

There were so many inspiring elements to the race this year also. The organization I ran with for the Thanksgiving Half Marathon, Walking with K-Peasey, had around 40 athletes being pushed in wheelchairs for the half marathon. My little buddy, Grant, who I had pushed, was there with his mom, who I ran into after the race. And my continual inspiration, Cougar, I got to say hello to before and cheer for him on the course. I loved seeing everyone out there and that organization and the people involved are truly inspiring. And in addition, people from all over the world came to Atlanta for "Team Take Down Publix" in an attempt to have the largest number of black marathoners in one race. I heard afterwards that a normal marathon is usually about 2% black runners, but this one was 25% due to the work of Heather King to promote and recruit runners to take on the challenge.

There were also so many fun portions about the weekend. It started on Friday during the day when I met up for a work date with Ayanna and Brick. Friday night I spent St. Patrick's Day having a couple drinks with India and Nikki and enjoying the nice weather. We had ridiculous conversation and laughed a lot and I'm so thankful to have them in my life. There was an ITL pasta party in between the bike ride and the run. And on Sunday after my own race, I went out to the last mile of the marathon with Ayanna, India and Nikki to cheer on many of my friends who took on the full 26.2  of Atlanta hills. At that point in time my happiness from the race had fully washed over me and my cheering and jumping up and down was mixed in with dancing and being completely silly in the middle of the  street. Thinking back I am still laughing at one comment from Ayanna that even the police officer patrolling traffic around the race couldn't hold back and burst out laughing at. Then Sunday in the evening, I went for a celebratory burger and beer with Shelby, who dropped her own meal prep when I reached out and asked if she was interested.

It was a really fun race and a really fun weekend overall. The Publix half marathon continues to be a memorable one for me and today I registered online for the race to run it again in 2018. Looking forward already to year 4 of this race and thankful to everyone who made this year's run so much fun and a great experience for me. 1:55:55 is the time to beat!


  1. Always love reading your race recaps. Great job!

  2. You're awesome - it was so much fun running with you. Here's to many more training workouts and events ahead!