Race Report Part I: 4 Bridges Half Marathon in Chattanooga, Tennessee, October 18, 2015 (1:41:42 PR)

I've already hinted at it in an earlier post, but this race was one of the most enjoyable ones I have ever run.  I can't help smiling any time I think about the weekend of the race.  I have so much to say about the race that I decided to split it up into a few different posts.  They will be long and picture-heavy, so let's go ahead and get things started off right:

Finish line.  Man, I love running.

Early in summer, as soon as I decided I was safely past the worst of my injury, I registered for the 4 Bridges Half Marathon in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  This race is part of the 7 Bridges Marathon race weekend.  In order to help promote the race, and get a good turnout for a regional competition, my track club offered a significantly discounted race entry fee, and arranged to set up a tent near the staging area for all of us to use.  I was really excited to run this race, and made it a "social goal race."  I just wanted to do my best with the training that time would allow, and have a great time.

The Race

The half marathon, full marathon, and 5k all start in the same staging area, Coolidge Park on the north side of the Tennessee River.  The highlight of the race is, of course, the bridge crossings -- four for the half marathon and seven for the full.  The half marathon course stays in downtown Chattanooga, which is all pedestrian friendly and newly gentrified.  The city center is full of museums and other public spaces in swooping contemporary buildings, manicured parks, new condos, and wide pedestrian walkways.  For the 2015 half marathon, a huge portion of miles 7-11 were on a scenic riverwalk away from traffic.  The final bridge crossing was a beautiful wooden pedestrian bridge that really reminded me of the Brooklyn Bridge.  If you're interested in a lime-lapse video of the half marathon course, you can watch this one I found on Youtube.

The view from the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge.

You can check out my map on Strava for the elevation profile and overview.  According to Strava, this race had ~550 feet of climbing.  To me it felt completely flat, with one notable downhill near mile 12.  No mile had more than 75 feet of elevation change.  Flat, right?  Well, at the 5k I ran last month, some of my fast friends said, "oh, we're skipping that one...it's too hilly."  It kind of psyched me out, but then again they are trying to meet Olympic time standards and I would want a very flat course to attempt that, nawmeen?  Then on the day of the race, I overheard some people from Florida complaining about the hills.  So whatever, you decide.

My family at the Blue Boy rhinoceros sculpture in Coolidge Park.  

The expo was a small tent city set up in Coolidge Park, with booths from local track clubs, charities, and a few vendors.  Everything was well organized, and I was done quickly.  FYI there was also race-day packet pickup (but not registration).  The swag bag (which doubled as a drop bag for the race) had a wall poster of the route, a small towel, a gender-specific tech shirt, a granola bar my son immediately stole and ate, and a variety of fliers and other small items.  

Coolidge Park.

Training, Eating, Clothing, Etc.

All your burning questions will be answered right here!

I finally got my mileage back up above 30 mpw around the beginning of August.  In the six weeks leading up to the race, I averaged 36 miles of running each week.  I usually split this up over an easy run, a moderate distance run with hills, a shorter fast run, a tempo on the treadmill, and a Saturday long run with the track club.  My long runs were all 10-13 miles, and I sped them up as the weather cooled off and the race drew closer.  At the end, I was doing them at an 8:30-8:40 pace.

I generally take one or two rest days a week, take a yoga class, take a spin class, make time for one or two sessions with free weights, and do regular stretching and injury prevention stuff.  I log everything on here and on Strava, and I don't use a coach or follow any formal plan.  I just believe in 1) a wide variety of run types...hilly, flat, treadmill, outdoor, fast, slow, etc., and 2) consistent volume over many weeks.

In the weeks before the race, I was a little bit more careful about eating.  I cut out virtually all meat and fatty foods, and tried to simplify things a bit.  I limited myself to one cup of coffee in the morning, and one drink at night, and made sure to have at least five liters of water a day (I drink a lot of water...can't stop won't stop).  The week of the race, I didn't do any really fast or hilly runs, and I pretty much eliminated fatty foods.  Luckily, I'm in charge of dinner preparation, so I made things like pizza, pasta, curried lentils, split pea soup, and rice casseroles.  I also made sure I never felt hungry, and snacked on fig cookies, fruit, toast, and hot cocoa.

Typical breakfast.  It only has like 400 grams of carbs...eat your heart out ladies. 

The day before the race, I had oatmeal with raw sugar and raisins, pretzels and a light beer (yeah, in the daytime, YOLO), pasta with mung beans and bread, and a veggie burger with fries and a dark beer.  The morning of, I had half a plain bagel, candy pumpkins, and a caffeinated Hammer Gel.

I sort of freaked out about clothing for this race, because the temperature went from "every day feels like a thousand melting suns" to "holy shit what is this, frost?" within a few days.  My normal race clothing strategy involves wearing just enough to avoid being arrested for indecent exposure.  If it's cold, I just add mismatched layers until onlookers are confused, and either toss them or tuck them into my underwear as I run.  So, I packed basically an entire running wardrobe for the trip to Chattanooga.  I settled on a sports bra and Birmingham Track Club singlet, lightweight compression tights, arm warmers, gloves, and a ball cap (topped jauntily with a wool beanie and my $4 shades from ALDI).

Stylin'.  I'm still running in the Brooks Ghost 7, and I probably will continue to do so until there are none left in my size, at which point I will complain and panic. 

The Day Before

I already posted about the full week and crazy Saturday that preceded this race.  But when is life not crazy?  In a nutshell, my husband won second overall at a trail race near Birmingham and we didn't leave for Chattanooga until Saturday afternoon.  As we were headed out the door, I noticed Chattanooga is in the Eastern Time Zone.  I REPEAT: CHATTANOOGA IS IN THE EASTERN TIME ZONE.  It makes no sense, and it made me feel a little panicky.  Traveling east is never fun, especially with a toddler and a 5 am alarm to look forward to.

We hit the expo, walked around on some of the course, scouted a safe pedestrian route from the hotel to the start, and the found some dinner.  We decided on The Feed Company Table and Tavern, mostly because they had a kids' menu and the food I wanted: a veggie burger and a dark beer.

Ta-dahhhhh.  Sippy cup for scale.

The food was...okay.  I make a better veggie burger at home, and the whole scene was a little pretentious for my taste (speaking as someone who lived in Brooklyn during the hipster fluorescence, that is TOO PRETENTIOUS).  Also, the service was terrible and the place was just a din of chaos, with a party of about 30 teenagers on their way to a fall formal dance.  I was incredibly relieved to get back to the hotel and crawl into bed.

Morning Of

I slept pretty well, and only woke up a few times with my son.  He has trouble sleeping in strange or uncomfortable beds (you and me both, kiddo).  I finally forced myself out of bed around 5:15 and dressed in the bathroom by the light of my phone.  I ate as much bagel as I could stand (as it turns out, only half), had some candy pumpkins for good measure, and started jogging to the start.  I arrived to the Birmingham Track Club tent just in time to pose for a club photo and watch the full marathoners get into the starting chute. 

Front row, all black like a boss.  We also provided a lot of the pacers for the races, and they are the ones in the neon yellow shirts. 

The staging area was COLD, 40 degrees with the wind coming off the water.  I had a fleece jacket and tote bag to stash in the tent, so I spent a long time just huddled up with my club mates.  It was very dark (Eastern Time Zone, etc.), and there was a DJ playing pop dance music.  We may have done some of the whip.  And some of the nae nae.  Mostly the nae nae.  I ate a disgusting espresso flavored Hammer Gel for the caffeine.  I stood for the national anthem, and watched the full marathoners start.  After that, I found a porta potty and thought about lining up in the chute.

OMG you guys this post is so looooooong...I can't control it.  I think I'm going to stop here and leave you in suspense until tomorrow.  I KNOW.  And tomorrow's post is the good one, because it will be all the splits and rambling, disjointed thoughts I have while running.  Don't worry, you can sneak a peak at Strava if you don't feel like waiting.

UPDATE:  Part II of this race report is now posted HERE.

I was not compensated in any way for this writing.  I received a discounted race entry as a benefit of my membership in the Birmingham Track Club.  Which you should all totally join.