Atlanta Thanksgiving Half Marathon

So much to say. And where do I start? It all started before the race – long before.

About 1-2 weeks ago I spoke with Laura (my coach) and said this was the first time I ever trained specifically for a half marathon. It wasn’t run while I was training for another event. I did many track and road runs geared specifically for a half marathon. I was still swimming, biking, and doing strength training, but Laura wanted me to race this to see what I can do.

I was nervous. My best pace on a half marathon was on a flat course and was greater than 5 minutes slower than what Laura was saying I could do. Granted it was in a half-iron triathlon but still….I was nervous (OK – doubtful). She told me to line up with the 1:40 pace group, and was thinking I should start with the 1:35 group. 1:40 I was ready to humor…1:35….let me break 1:40 first!

The night before the race I thought about my race history. Last year I would build to a race only to not hit my goals. And then I would go in to a race with no taper, no expectations and nail it. Things happened by accident, it seemed. I was often surprised at the results. Races where I had a goal I would miss, and then I would do a race a couple of weeks later with no taper and….I would exceed expectations! In short, I am still nervous about setting goals and what people “expect” of my performance (even my coach who has proof and sound reasoning behind her expectations). But – part of my work this year is to trust my coach and believe in myself. Well – not that I ever doubted Laura, but after this…I need to trust me!

I know I am at a point where I need to go in with a goal to do the best I can and not be surprised by the results. After all…I am training for this! I have learned to trust my nutrition and my training. It is time to make the training show by learning to give. I am already much more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I was nervous. And decided the only thing I could do was be grateful – grateful for the opportunity to run, that I have found something that I enjoy, and the chance to challenge myself. I suddenly felt calm, and OK with whatever would happen.  I thought about my training and how often, during a warm up, I will wonder “how will my body hit the intervals for today?” but somehow…my body answers. It is strong. It CAN! I also thought about races and how a race changes things….all of a sudden your goal is real! I thought “Ok – this goal is actually VERY tangible”.

In the week or so leading up to the race I noticed my mental state – tricks my mind plays when working on a goal. One run I saw someone ahead of me and without thinking did what I could to catch him. As I eased passed him I greeted him with a “You’re hard to catch”. And after I thought…”that’s the race mentality” – you don’t feel like you are working THAT hard, you see a challenge and your body responds.  I stored that in my pocket for race day too.

And so race day….

Pre-Race

Before I left the house I spun on my trainer very easy for 20 minutes. I wasn’t sure if I could warm up with the cold, and just wanted to let my body know that is is show time soon. I know before a tri I can run 2+ hours before and it helps. So – I spun 3 hours before to see what would happen.

My super supportive husband woke up early to go down with me. Keep in mind – he was NOT RACING! He was going to sit with the car while I ran 13.1 miles. His plan included heading to Waffle House after the start to have a warm place to be. And he could also head to his office for a bit. Um….yeah….SUPER SUPPORTIVE! Really – I could have driven myself, and he could have slept in. But he didn’t want to….he wanted to be there.

We left before 6 a.m. to head down as traffic is traditionally horrible. 8000+ runners and their supporters are heading to Turner Field. Really – it’s not pretty. We got there with minimal problems (I did pull one u-turn because of the general chaos and not knowing the traffic flow). Carlos drives the route to work daily and was my guide….and he good-naturedly commented about the many people who driving who were clueless. It lightened the mood in the car and we had a few good laughs.

It was cold. Very cold. Not “northern cold” but it was sub freezing cold which, wherever you are, is cold. The hardest part was being outside in the corral waiting for the race to start. I commented to a few friends – if we were training we would step out of the car we would just start running and warm up. Waiting outside for 30 – 45 minutes…Brrr!!!!

As I walked to my corral I saw my friends Adam and Christian and chatted with them for a bit. Adam asked if I was taking it easy or going for it. I actually said I was going for it! And told him my finish goal!

I had an extra fleece and gloves I had been planning to give to Goodwill with me that, about 5 minutes before the start, I placed outside of the run corral. The Atlanta Thanksgiving Half was donating all items left behind to charity.

Luckily I saw a number of friends (including my coach) in my assigned corral. She told me to go up with the 1:40 group but I was close enough I thought I could keep them in sight (nope – things spread out quickly).  I also wanted to be with friends before the start. Friends keep me calm and don’t let me over-think.

I never had a chance to think any negative thoughts….we were all too busy chatting about anything else: the cold, the parking, that my friend Laura’s (not my coach!) husband was at that moment parking their car and he is supposed to be in the corral (she also has a very supportive husband). They had gotten there earlier than suggested by the website, but traffic from the south was horrendous.

The Race

The race started. We were off. Soon I was on my own. I never really saw the 1:40 pace group – just a few people with the pace group numbers on their back. Apparently they had lost the pack too.

I couldn’t feel my feet for the first three miles. I thought “This isn’t fun.” But as things built – that went the way-side. I was focused on race increments and what my body was saying. Plus I started feeling my feet again!

I started off behind Adam and Christian and kept behind them – knowing they were going for a faster time than me. I just enjoyed keeping them in sight. I also picked a few people I could watch/pace from.

I thought about how busy the first few miles were – and I had to jockey for space and passing people. I thought about how much I prefer the run at a triathlon where such jockeying isn’t necessary. Then I thought about the swim of a triathlon and realized it’s probably worse for a triathlon since you really get hit with arms and legs, and can get swum over. But…I guess I am more used to that!  This amused me.

Before mile three I heard vuvuzelas and hoped it was group from Dynamo….specifically Betty since I know her.  The vuvuzela is their signature way to cheer on their fellow Dynamo athletes – and they always have extra to cheer on just about everyone else! Lo and behold it was Betty! I tried my best to say hello and wave, but it was hard to talk as my jaw was so cold! But she saw me and gave me a boost to go.

After the first couple of miles I realized I had time in the bank to hit my goal time – meaning I was running faster than necessary. Here is where my training/racing mentality takes over. I like having time in the bank, and work to get that time….just in case. I like that buffer. However, I have always been a saver: I love seeing my savings grow. The same is true with any workout Laura gives me – I do not deliberately aim to beat the time/pace she sets for me (if/when she does) but it is an unspoken goal of mine for every workout to beat it. And now with a race goal…the same thinking took over. I wanted to build that buffer and not lose ANY time.

I thought about the racing strategies my friend Mike taught me – back off a little on the hills – you’ll take ‘em on the flats and downhills if you race right. That was my goal. So on a hill I would give up a little time knowing it would pay dividends (can you tell I am a bankers daughter?) over the race.

Soon I had PR’s for my 5k and 10k pace. If I kept it up, my half marathon pace would be faster than my paces for my 5k and 10k PR’s. That made me smile. And really believe.

At 10k I felt good…and wanted to keep going.

At the half way point I knew I had it. I felt good. Strong. Never had a thought of giving up or I was doing something to jeopardize my race. I recalled that in training (especially in the swim) once I hit half way for any interval….I know I can do it. I hit a comfort zone. I believe. Same was true here. I kept watching my pace.

There are a lot of hills – especially on the back half of the course. Didn’t matter – I felt comfortable and good.

At mile 10 I thought “I’ve got this”. I started letting myself think about thanking Laura and my previous coach Mary (“Quick feet” went through my head SO many times), and Deb – who runs the track where I spent more than 10 months training. They all have put a lot of effort in to getting me here. They believe. I smiled. I was grateful. I was doing it! I kept thinking about how I would let Laura know SHE WAS RIGHT!

About mile 10 there was a very steep hill. I shortened my stride and backed off a little….all as strategy. I was feeling good.

There were a few more memorable hills – turning up Memorial drive was another. Oi….the hills kept coming. Didn’t matter – I was good.

I was behind on my nutrition but at each water stop I would grab my nutrition from my hydration belt and take a sip or two. I was feeling pretty good with execution, even if I was behind. Ended up I didn’t quite finish 1 bottle. Not great. I could hear Marni reminding me what she has taught me. It was so cold, though, it was hard to drink sometimes (more using my fingers to grab the bottle and put it back without dropping it). At a couple of water stops they were warning you to watch the ice from the spilt fluids. I was glad I could give the water stations a wide berth and had my own nutrition with me.

At about mile 11 I looked at the time and knew it would be close but I could break 1:40 easily with how I felt. I also saw a friend of Laura’s – Barbara. I know who she is. I am not sure she knows who I am. I kept working – slowly catching up. As I pulled alongside her (after mile 12) I said, “Hello, Barbara” – probably taking her off guard (as in “Who is this woman who knows my name?”. It’s a small world!).  We chatted briefly – almost there and lo! A downhill!

As I turned the corner it was the straightaway to the finish. I was smiling. I felt good and upped my pace. I wanted to break 1:40. Holy cow…I am really doing this! I came in all smiles. The clock wasn’t at 1:40 yet and I had about 1-2 minutes extra based on clock time when I went over the starting mat. I felt great – ecstatic. I kept thinking that Laura was right, and how I could thank her. I wanted this for her…she believed. And now I do too! It’s a process. I know I am learning. With each race I progress.

I crossed the finish line at 1:38:47. I felt strong. I felt tired. I felt proud. I had run a good race for me. Not sure I had a stronger race in me this day, but the way it felt…better are to come. And soon.  My Garmin said I covered 13.35 miles. With the weaving I did I would believe it!

Post Race

I didn’t hang around after the race…which is unusual for me. I cooled off quickly and started to get cold. I made my way through the finishers’ area – grabbing what I could – and headed out to find Carlos.

I heard Tim’s name announced as he crossed the finishing line. I smiled knowing Laura had been worried about him making the start as he was parking the car and let her go to the starting corral while he parked. I found out later he had made it, and even started with Corral A – jumping the fence and was literally the last person in Corral A to start. Talk about an adrenaline rush! He also raced very well.

I found Carlos quickly and we headed to the car. I got in, turned on the car, turned on my heated seat, changed shirts, and we soon were on our way home.

I would have loved to cheered more friends in, and chatted but I cooled off quickly and needed to head to the heat.  Looking on Facebook after I missed a lot of friends along the course and after.

It was a good race for me. I had exceeded my expectations on many levels. And it was hard, but also felt easy.  That may sound cocky to say, but it was how it felt. It felt…natural. I was ready for it. I did work hard. I was ready for it. I had a goal time. Now…to believe whole heartedly. Just like my coach.

Believe

And yes – my half marathon PR pace is faster than my 5k and 10k PR.  Sounds like a challenge to me!

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