Sunday, July 16, 2017

2017 Peachtree Road Race Recap

This year, for the second time, I celebrated Independence Day with 60,000 of my friends with a run down Peachtree Street in Atlanta. The Peachtree Road Race is the world's largest 10K and it is really an experience unlike any other. It brings out everyone I know in the running community in Atlanta and also basically just everyone IN Atlanta. Elite athletes, runners, walkers, and spectators fill the streets and it is a party from start to finish.

I ran the Peachtree Road Race in 2015, which was my first year living in Atlanta. It was a fun experience but it started to downpour in the middle of the race. I ran the second half of the race in soaking rain and thunder and lightning. Half of the start waves were held from beginning because of the weather. It was pretty miserable at the end so rather than meet up with any friends, I just immediately got myself out of Piedmont Park and connected with my family. What made the race super memorable for me in 2015 was that my dad, his wife, and my twin brothers were in Atlanta visiting that weekend and met me at the finish. It was also the race where I had set my 10K PR, which remained my stand alone 10K PR until [spoiler alert] this year's Peachtree Road Race!

2015 PTRR
A few weeks before the race, I set a goal for running this years race to break 50 minutes in the 10K, which would also set a new PR for me. When I unexpectedly hit that goal during the Chattanooga Waterfront Olympic triathlon, I needed to set a new goal for Peachtree.  I set that at running 47-ish minutes and aim to try and run around 7:30 minutes/mile. The weekend before the race, I talked to a training partner of mine, Zach, who had helped me to reach my PR in the Publix Half Marathon and we discussed running together. We'd both hit our Peachtree goals of breaking 50 during Chattanooga Waterfront and simultaneously had to set more aggressive goals for this race.

I was a bit nervous going into the race and the night before was unsure of what I would be able to accomplish. I just didn't feel like I had much in me. Part of that was tiredness from the super busy weekend I had just had - I biked my longest bike ride ever on the Saturday before of 80 miles, then immediately flew to Albany, NY that evening. I arrived late on Saturday night, went to bed, and woke up in the morning to run 10 miles, then changed and went to the wedding which kept me up WAY past my bedtime (believe it or not I managed to stay awake until 3:00 a.m.!) After not enough sleep, I was up in the morning (my body wakes up regardless of what time I go to bed), flew back to Albany, and immediately went to the race expo to pick up my bib. It was a whirlwind but so much fun and I wouldn't change a thing about it. (Wedding pics below, because, why not?)

The downside though was that by Monday evening, I was wiped and just wasn't sure what I would be able to muster up in the morning for the race.

It made me a little more nervous because I'd discussed running with another person too and was unsure how it would go if I wasn't feeling my most race ready. And on top of that, the forecast was predicting a super hot and super humid day. Not the best time to still be dehydrated from flights, drinks, and lack of sleep.

In the morning, I got up and got myself ready for the race, then left my apartment and began my "warm up" by running 1/2 mile-ish down the road to the Marta station. One of the things that is exciting to me about where I now live is that I can take the Marta for these types of events. In the past, my neighborhood was nowhere near a Marta stop, so this was pretty cool to me. I got to the train station and made my way towards Buckhead with the tons and tons of other runners all decked out in red, white and blue on the train.

I actually stayed on the train one stop longer than the mass unload of runners going to the race, getting off a bit later as I planned to meet other runners from ITL for a pre-race photo. Then, we'd all run another mile to the race start as part of the warm up. Some of the group actually turned the race into the end of their long runs in Ironman training and had run up to 12 miles before the start of the Peachtree!! Another one of our teammates was out there, walking the 6.2 miles when she was literally 9 months pregnant. She was scheduled to be induced two days later, but [spoiler alert again] ended up having the baby the very next day. Talk about no excuses! These people push me to work harder than I have before.

After some fun seeing everyone in the morning, I eventually made my way to the start corral. I was in Wave C, which is the same wave that I ran in when I did 2 years ago. For this event, it can be an accomplishment just to achieve getting into Waves A or B as they place you based on time. I have been pretty happy with being in C the past two races and this year my scheduled start time was 7:40 a.m. The way that the race staggers the starts, many waves have finished the race before some of the latter waves even start! Knowing that, and knowing how hot it gets, you can see why people like to get placed earlier. I have heard that if you are in one of the later waves, it is a completely different experience then running in the early ones due to the amount of people on the course, time of day, etc. This year I had the same feeling I did 2 years ago, where I wished I could do the race twice. First, running for time, and then a second time, stopping for food and drinks from spectators, taking pictures, and just enjoying the party!

When Zach and I met in the morning, we both approached each other and said the same exact thing to one another "I don't know how I am feeling for today." We both seemed to be feeling the exact same way, of being really unsure given the elements, but also not wanting to let the other down. We agreed to run together but just see how things go and if we needed to separate because one was feeling good or bad, just adjust as we went. I let him know what my coach had said, which was if wanted a 7:30 average at the end, to aim to be a little under 7:30 in the beginning when it was downhill, expecting to be a bit over 7:30 in the 2nd half where it was harder with the uphill.

We set the plan and were in the start corral. It was really cool to see the massive American flag hanging overhead, the National Anthem, and to see the fly-by of the fighter planes before the start of the race. We got to watch the Elite women start on the big screen TV and I had my pre-race ritual of a little dance party to get loose and warmed up. Another friend we ran with at Publix was with us at the start corral, so it was very similar to our start of the Publix Half Marathon crew!

Once we started the race, the first half mile was a lot of bobbing and weaving around people. Zach is pretty tall so I just did my best to post him and stick behind. We were both in ITL blue shirts, but the challenge with that is that on the 4th of July - so is a third of the other people out there! There are tons of spectators all throughout the course and even from the very start it is a celebration for sure.

We made our way to left side of the road and ran along that side of the road. This is a well supported race with numerous water stops on the 10K route, even starting at the very beginning. I skipped the first ones and just tried to find a steady pace that I could feel comfortable at. However, from the very start, I did not feel good. I was pushing to a point of being a bit too uncomfortable trying to keep with Zach, and trying to run a little under 7:30. I felt tired and it just was harder than I wanted it to be in the very first mile. It just felt way too hard too early.

When we hit the first mile marker we looked to one another and checked in. I said immediately to Zach when he asked how I was doing, "I don't think I have it today. It feels too hard." He suggested we try for another mile and I said sure, but immediately after that started to drop behind. I just couldn't hang at that pace. Zach started to creep ahead little by little and at one point he looked back at me and I sort of gave him the nod to just go, and he turned back and continued on.

For the majority of the next few miles, I could see Zach ahead of me but I didn't have the energy to push harder to stay with as he slowly creeped ahead. I looked at my watch to check my pace as we started the downhills and I was running right exactly at around 7:30. I knew if I was doing that on the downhill, I wouldn't expect to average that throughout the whole race with the tougher back half of the course. But just settled in to do my best for the day. I was a little beat up and disappointed with myself that I couldn't keep up and part of me wanted to just ease up completely and turn the race into a jog. However, once I settled into 7:30 for the next mile or so, I started to feel a lot better and much more comfortable. This pace I could do.

Right around 3 miles at this course, the gradual downhill turns into uphill. They call this Cardiac Hill as it is right around Piedmont Hospital and it is a doozy. I saw my friend Tisha on the course cheering, just as I was about to head up the hill and it was so great to see her. With so many of my friends on the course running, there weren't a lot of people I knew to actually look for as spectators. It was a fun and needed surprise to spot Tisha on the route! I also love that someone managed to get this photo of the moments when I made eye contact with her and went in for a high five.

I've always had a love-hate relationship with race photos. Okay, well, maybe it has been more of a hate relationship with photos. I am not a cute runner. I very rarely find a photo of myself running that I think is flattering. When the proofs come out I usually cringe clicking through the photos, most especially the ones that are captured on the down stroke of the stride when gravity and impact is just not doing pretty things to the body.

However, I have come to appreciate race photos and pictures of me running because I now focus on how strong I look or how proud I was of that moment. Is the picture below flattering of me? Absolutely not. Do I love it? Absolutely I do. I love how exhausted yet happy my face looks and how excited I am to see a friend along the course. To me it is the definition of what a well timed high five can do for you and the boost of adrenaline it can bring in a tough moment. I'm sweaty. My hair is a mess. But I know looking at it that in the moment, I was flying. I appreciate race photos and love this one in particular.

As I passed Tisha and hit the hills, I maintained my pace as best as possible - or more importantly, worked to maintain my effort level. Having run this route many times I know that there is sort of a double hill you've got to get through. You think it's done, but then it's not done. I prepared for that. And I also enjoyed the inspiration along the course. In the middle of the, you run past the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where they had many of their patients there for rehabilitation out on the route in their wheelchairs cheering and there is NO WAY that you can run by that and not get a bit choked up and push a little harder up that hill.

I regretted that I was all the way on the left side of the route and cut across the street in order to get high fives. However, with all the people on the route it would have been tough and a lot of energy. I definitely was soaking it all in though, especially after having met people over the past year who have benefit from the Shepherd Center. There was a small group of push assist athletes that were competing that morning so I was thinking of all of them as well as I ran up Cardiac Hill.

Once you get to the top, you get a little bit of relief and then the hills continue. I knew once to the 4 mile mark, I could mentally push through for 2 more miles. This part of the course I have run so many times on morning runs from Atlantic Station, it felt so comfortable to me and I knew the elevation and the turns really well. By the time I got to 17th street, I was counting down block by block, landmark by landmark, and bump by bump in the road.

Besides Tisha I had only seen one other spectator I knew along the route, which was Coach Adam, who I saw for a split second as he yelled my name. Right somewhere around this point, another thing happened, as I was getting into Midtown. By this point I had lost sight of Zach completely but I heard my name called and turned to my right where I saw Zach, heading through one of the water stations. Apparently I had caught back up to him and was passing him through this section, continuing on!

It was a tough moment for me because I had one of those split second, "What do I do?" thoughts and moments when I saw him. I was feeling good and still pushing, feeling adrenaline knowing I was through the hills and wanting to maintain it. But I also wanted to stop and check with him and see how he was doing. And even MORE SO, I wanted him to come into the finish with me. Just the week prior, my friend Rahul had encouraged me to stick with him through to the finish, which meant so much. And Zach himself had done that for me, pacing and supporting me through the finish of the Publix Half Marathon!

With some hesitation, I waved to him and kept moving, he was on the other side of the race course and at this point I was in a bit of a zone pushing myself mentally to the finish. I still feel bad about this even writing it up now. I wish I had been able to repay the favor and am not sure if I did the right thing in continuing on.

As I mentioned, when I hit 17th street, I counted down the blocks one by one to get to 10th street where it would then just be the final stretch to the finish. I checked my pace a few times and saw I was slowing into the 8s so I had no idea where my time would land but was working to give what ever last kick I had at the end. The section on 10th Street seemed to go on forever. It is deceptively long, and I had to sustain that last kick for a while. I remember seeing the sign that marked 6 miles and thought to myself, "Really!? It's not the finish yet?"

From the years before, I remembered that the finish line is just a little bit further than you think it is going to be, and true enough this year was the same. I finished out of breath and extremely hot and extremely sloshy, drenched in sweat from the tough race and hot and humid day.

When I finished I met up with friends and got to chat about everyone's races. I could literally wring my shorts out they were so drenched in liquid from the race. I would like to think it was from dumping some water on myself on the course, but mostly it was just lots of sweat. Most people I spoke to were really happy with their races, a few other PRs to go around, but nobody that I spoke to necessarily hit their exact goal for the day. Everyone was in good spirits though and it was fun to catch up with people at the designated meeting point.

I was really happy with my time and my new PR of 48:22 in the 10K. I finished 71 / 3196 in my age group and 418 / 27785 for women competing -- numbers which I think are incredibly cool as well. 418 out of 27785?! What the what?! That seems nutty! When I looked at my data from the run afterwards, my coach pointed out that my HR had gotten really high in that first mile, so me adjusting and pulling back the pace was really a smart move. I ran my mile splits at 7:15 / 7:32 / 7:29 / 8:09 / 8:00 / 7:42 and finished the last bit after 6 miles a 6:45 pace. My finish time is something I am proud of, but I was also more proud of myself that I finished the race with the thought, "I think I could do better and improve that even more."

For some people, you might think that having that thought is a negative thing. That I wasn't allowing myself to be proud of my current accomplishment, that it indicates a deeper problem that one accomplishment is never good enough and that I am addicted to the chase. However, for me, it indicates a sign of growing strength and confidence in myself and my abilities.

In the past when I have done really well in a race, I have had the thought, "That was just a fluke. I have no idea how I did that. I don't think I could ever run that time ever again." or "Welp. That was it. Might as well retire now. I have just done the best I have ever and will ever be able to do." I doubt the numbers and I assume there was some sort of error in timing that is just waiting to be announced. To be honest, I felt and feel that way a little bit about how I did in the Chattanooga Half Ironman from May. I am scared to do another half distance race, because I don't know that I could do any better than I did that day!

But for this race, the fact I finished with a new PR and thought about wanting to do even better, indicates owning my current time. No fluke. No potential timing error. No need to declare retirement in the 10K. I ran a 48:22 on a hot day and tough course because I have been working for it. And I think if I keep working, I could do even better. And I want to!

I like that I am able to see a future for myself in running, that my mind is starting to settle into accepting where I am in my running accomplishments, that I believe improvements are out there, and that I am able to vocalize these goals. These are huge mental gains for me and I am really proud of this year's Peachtree Road Race!

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