Sunday, September 10, 2017

ATL Relay Race Recap: Running to Cloud Copeland

One of the races that I had on my schedule since the beginning of the year was an ATL staple that I had never participated in before - the ATL Relay. The plan to do this race was a part of the celebrations throughout August for my friend and biggest supporter, Brick's wedding. We decided to make a team consisting of the Atlanta based members of the wedding party, myself and Ayanna, and India, official makeup artist of the bride and bridal party! I had never really had it in my mind to "race" and didn't have much expectation for it, but it ended up being both a really, really fun morning and also a bit of a turning point for me mentally (which I mentioned in my recent training recap!)

In addition to our 4-person bridal party team, we recruited two other teams of friends and turned the morning into a fun party. The race is made up of four 5K loops, each person running one 5K. However, there are also options to do it solo or various combinations. Since I needed to get in a long run for the day, I decided to run the first leg of the relay for our team, and then would just continue running additional loops to get in the full 20K distance. That, plus the 2-ish mile run from my apartment would get me to about 15 miles for the day.

The race started at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning in Castleberry Hill. To get there, I had to run straight down one road and then just take one left turn to get there. My plan for the day was to warmup on the run there, push the first 5K loop but not race it, then settle into an easy pace for the rest.

I left my apartment around 6:00 a.m. and got to the race a little before 6:30. I love Atlanta local races because it is always an opportunity to bring so many people together that I know in the running community and as soon as I arrived it was fun to say hello to so many people I hadn't seen in a while. However, after not too long I met up with our team and put the finishing touch on our outfit by attaching my "booty veil" to the back of my race belt.

Never expecting to be competitive in the actual running race, our team had set our goals on winning the award for "Best Dressed" given out each year to the most coordinated and best dressed team. We had shirts made with Brick's wedding colors that said "Last Miles Until Cloud Copeland" on the front and our Instagram names on the back. We wore black shorts and "booty veils" which was basically a giant pompom on the back of our bums. We'd gotten together a couple weeks earlier to prep for the race and I had followed a YouTube tutorial to make the booty veils for our team. Brick also had a real veil to wear and a "Bride" crown. We were pretty cute if I say so myself.

As I was running the first leg, shortly before 7:00 I went to the start and after not too long we were off. Immediately on the course you had to run by all of the waiting teams, which was a huge roar of cheers and exciting way to start the race. The only other time I have run as part of a "relay" was with some of the same girls earlier in the year when we went to Birmingham, Alabama for the Mercedes Marathon relay. This was a TOTALLY different experience and I liked it a lot better. In Birmingham, there were spots all throughout the city where the transfers happened so you were alone a lot and not with your teammates. Whereas with this relay, all the transfers happened in one location, which made that spot a big party.

I started out feeling really strong and tried to push the pace but also not push too hard and race it. I kept reminding myself that at the end of this 5K I still had a lot more running to do, so pace myself.

The route was nice with some rolling hills and through a part of town that I don't run in too often so it kept it interesting. There were water stations and people I knew cheering throughout the course as well as a couple out-and-back sections which are fun during races that you know a lot of people participating in. My first mile was 7:35 pace and I told myself to hold back a bit. It seemed fast. My next mile was 7:48, which seemed a little better. Then my final mile of the 5K was 7:33 - which included a big uphill portion! You finished the 5K loop by running downhill to the transition area, but not before earning by going through an uphill. I became very familiar with this route by the end of the day.

I didn't want to put too much pressure on the day as a whole day. I had run a lot that week and still had another long run the next day as well. I wasn't carrying water with me on the course either so I decided that at the end of each 5K loop I would stop and take a break and see my friends before continuing on.  As I made my way into transition, India was waiting for me and I passed the timing chip to her then slowed and stopped to walk, per my plan.

However, standing right there were Ayanna and Brick, who both at the same time yelled at me, "KEEP GOING!" and I groaned, to which Ayanna replied "You signed up for this!" and with that, I kept running.

I continued on for my second loop of the course, trying to go easy and slow at the beginning. I felt like I was going really comfortable pace so I was really surprised when my watch beeped and I looked down and it said 8:05. Wow, I thought, I really need to slow down. I told myself to hold back some more and kept running. It was fun to see so many people on the course and being that it was my second time around, I knew how to pace myself and what to expect in the route.

All morning long the miles seemed to fly by and even though I had been telling myself to slow down, the miles on the second loop still continued to be under my target long run pace of 9:30 and miles 5 and 6 were at 8:31 and 8:40. At one point when I was on the second loop a woman caught up to me and told me she had been chasing me for a while. She said I was running at an incredible pace. Which, I was a little surprised because I felt like I was running comfortably. We chatted for a minute about what we were training for. I mentioned that I was doing the 20K and she said she was running the 10K and I slowed down a bit more and she got ahead of me into her finish.

As I head out on my 3rd loop, I knew I still had half the run left to do and started to prep myself for that, stopping at the water station and eating my Gu Chews and grabbing some water before continuing. I was plugging along, still feeling pretty good though and continuing to be shocked when my watch would beep indicating another mile and I would look down and see my split. My next miles were 8:38, 8:49, and 8:43. I made sure to drink water and Gatorade and grab some salt as well.

I was a bit worried throughout the race that my friends would catch me. I had passed the second runner in our relay starting the second loop and I had an idea/hope that my pace would be a bit faster than my friends were running, but I also wasn't sure exactly what to expect. I also stopped looking at my watch somewhere around the 3rd loop and was trying to just enjoy it. I felt like my pace was dropping a bit which I was totally okay with from a training point of view, as I wanted to be slowing down! I knew I had been going too fast and I kept thinking about the fact that I had a 2:30 hour run the next day. Running too fast today was going to make the next day suck.

A few weeks earlier I had done one of my Saturday post-bike-ride runs with my coach and he made us stop for water even though I was feeling fine. He said "this water isn't for today's run - it is for tomorrow's run" and that stuck with me while I was running at the ATL Relay. I wanted to be sure that I was running that day with the next day's run in mind.

My first mile on my last loop I saw that I was still running really fast at 8:35 and told myself really to take it easy. Brick was running the last loop of the run and although I know she can log some fast miles and might catch me, I had told myself I would be ok with that. I figured that even if she caught up to me, I could then just run into the finish with her.

By the time I was on my 4th and last loop, it was pretty funny because all of the volunteers, people out cheering, police officers, and water station people were like "You again?!" I think that the fact that I was running with a big pom pom over my bum and was running by them over and over probably made me pretty memorable. I thought it was funny that they were counting my laps as well and were cheering me on though.

The last two miles, I felt good and began to feel confident I would make it to the finish before Brick. Although I had told myself I would be okay with it if she caught me, I really had wanted to be there already and waiting/cheering for her as she came in. At this point I was walking the water stations, making sure that I was hydrated thinking about the next day. I also wanted to take the pressure off of myself and force myself to slow myself down and stop thinking about the pace. I finished the last 2 miles at 9:04 and 9:09 pace, then the last half mile at 8:37 pace.

My finish was a bit funny, although anticlimactic in the end. As I came into the transition/finish area for my last lap, as most people do when someone comes in for a finish, everyone started cheering and shouting!! At this point every team was paying really close attention to the people finishing as they were all on the lookout for their members. Everyone was cheering as I came up, but then instead of going into the finishers shoot or running into the relay exchange, I just stopped running and walked into the spectator area shortly before the finish line. Everyone went from cheering loudly to ".... Oh."

At the end of the run, I immediately felt a bit stiff. My knees were tired and felt achey and I was just drenched in sweat as well. Atlanta humidity at its finest. I found my friends and we walked back up the hill a bit waiting and looking for Brick to come into the finishers shoot so we could all run across the finish line as a team.

It wasn't too long when she came screaming through and we had to shout to her to slow down so we could keep up as we made our way in to the finish line.  I had an awesome time crossing the line as a team. I loved being a part of this relay and loved that my friends make running a part of their wedding celebration.

The day was so much and we hung around after the race catching up with friends until they announced the winners of the relay and what we were most anticipating... the best dressed award!

All of our hard work paid off and we were awarded best dressed, which made us all quite happy! Our prize was four tickets to go on a Atlanta Movie Tour and I am actually pretty excited to do that and experience something touristy in my own city.

The day was really fun, mostly because of all the people I was able to spend it with. I also loved my booty veil. It was a great way to get in 15 miles and it helped me gain a lot of confidence in my training as the marathon got closer. I absolutely recommend the ATL Relay and will definitely be keeping this in mind for next year!!

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