|Finish line. We're getting there, I promise.|
I left the cursed porta potty area and stashed all my stuff in the track club tent. This included my little fleece jacket, which I was very sad to take off. It was about 40 degrees, which felt much colder to me in the dark and wind, after a summer of triple-digit runs.
|Those of us who felt like posing for pictures before the start. My track club had about 160 runners in the three races. I'm second from the left in the front row, still shivering in my fleece jacket.|
By the time I started walking over to the starting chute, the crowd had increased substantially. I started politely making my way through from the back, and saw pace signs for 4:00, 3:45 etc. After a lot of "excuse me," I finally saw the 1:45 pacers in the very front. Like, the pacers were literally standing in the first row. I thought that was odd, because I knew several people in attendance who were planning to run close to 1:20 or 1:25. I just kept walking forward, and eventually caught up to another woman doing the same thing. She said, "pretend like we're together" and I held her hand while she led me to the third or fourth row back. I knew I was in the right place when I saw my training partner Myrna. We hugged and chatted with everyone around us. There were perhaps twenty people I knew standing nearby, plus a guy who asked if he could run along with us. Sure, dude.
This part is a bit verbose (but honestly, were you expecting anything different from me?). I just really wanted to make a detailed record of what felt like a very strong race. I enjoy reading race recaps, and I'm hoping you do too!
Mile 1 - 8:17
I don't remember the start, but it only took me a few seconds to get over the line. I was running with the flow, and reminding myself not to chase or get carried away. We went up and over Market Street Bridge, and Myrna and I tried to jump and pose for a photographer we saw. The sun was only just starting to come up, and the photos are a bit too dark, haha.
|If you look closely, you can see my neon arm warmers, aloft in a pose of exuberance. I try.|
|Surrounded by Birmingham Track Club runners. Myrna is in pink, and her boyfriend Carlos is in the red shirt. I'm laughing because I crack myself up.|
Mile 2 - 8:07
This included a bit of climbing (my watch assigned a 7:33 GAP) on something called Cameron Hill. Honestly, I didn't feel it. I was running in a little pack with my friends and working on staying in control.
Mile 3 - 8:01
We headed out for a little out-and-back on the west side of downtown. Myrna jogged through a water stop, but she caught back up immediately. She asked me whether I planned to jog water stops, and I decided on the spot that I wasn't going to use fuel or fluids until the halfway mark. I was feeling really strong and the weather was nice and cool. (This out-and-back was actually where the course was cut slightly short by the marshalls...more on that later.)
Here are some photos of Myrna and me running past the Chattanooga Aquarium. She saw the camera, and I clearly didn't. All these photos were free downloads for the registered runners...how cool is that??!
Mile 4 - 7:59
Whoops. We dived below the magic 8:00 mark, and someone in front of me actually said, "you guys are speeding up." I tried to reign it in a bit, but it was difficult, especially since I was running past so many of my club mates and they were all cheering. Everyone looked like they were having such a great time. It was just one of those moments...the sunrise was gorgeous, the air was cool and dry, and running felt effortless.
Mile 5 - 8:06
I took off my wool hat and threw it alongside the road. You're welcome, anyone who found it. I have never tossed clothing during a race, but the hat was a $2 Walmart job. The race packet said "donated to charity" so here's hoping it didn't end up in a landfill! We went up and over another bridge (my watch assigned a GAP of 7:45 for this mile, but I didn't feel the hill). I somehow got separated from Myrna somewhere in this mile...I think she dropped back for water? Not sure.
Mile 6 - 8:18
We crossed back through Coolidge Park, where there was loud music and a lot of spectators. I ran this race without music and headphones. (My iPod died in the torrential rain at the Peavine Falls Race this July, and I have been running without music ever since because I'm lazy.) It was nice to be in the moment and hear people cheering and calling my name. The course cut across a grassy field for a distance of about 50 meters, and into a loading dock area. I was confused for a bit, and realized for the first time that the routes were marked with color coded tape. Duh.
Mile 7 - 8:25
Again, a mile with some hills (8:02 GAP from my watch data). Again, I didn't feel them. Maybe perfect fall weather keeps you from struggling on hills? Maybe I've magically gained the ability to run hills? I DON'T KNOW! At the end of the bridge, I walked through a water stop and drank a full cup of water. Myrna ran past me, and it was clear she didn't see me. Oh well!
Mile 8 - 8:24, Mile 9 - 8:22, Mile 10 - 8:06, Mile 11 - 8:18
These miles are the real meat of a half marathon. Usually by this point in the race, I start to notice fatigue. My legs start to get heavy, the action of running starts to feel odd and monotonous, and I can start to feel underfueled or dehydrated. I just try to remember what it was like working as a pacer and keep a careful eye on my watch. I tell myself that I just have to keep doing the SAME THING over and over to complete the race as planned. I try to address problems with fuel and hydration before they hurt me. I tell myself some of my favorite little mantras, like "keep your head up" and "you are comfortable and relaxed."
At the beginning of mile 8, I noticed I was a little low on fuel. I am usually very good about picking up on this sensation...I feel a bit like I am floating, and like my shoes are heavy or sticking to the ground. I wanted to eat one of my candy pumpkins, but like a genius I had put them in a tiny, sealed Ziploc baggie inside the key pocket of my tights. I got the baggie out using brute force (compression tights are TIGHT, yo), but I was hopeless to open it up with my gloves on. I finally slowed to a jog and ripped it open with my teeth. Then, like an even bigger genius I stuffed a ripped bag of sugar candy down the front of my sweaty bra. Yeah, I need to figure out a better fueling strategy.
This whole section of the course was fairly flat, and along a pedestrian riverwalk. It was entirely pleasant, and the whole time I kept thinking, "man, I would totally run here all the time if I lived in Chattanooga!"
Mile 12 - 8:30
At the very beginning of this mile, an aid station appeared like some gorgeous desert fever dream. I grabbed a cup from someone who was saying "Gatorade, Gatorade" and it was a heavenly two ounces of some of the strongest powdered sports drink concoction I had ever tasted. Fueling strategy = DONE. I felt all the sugar slam into me and was immediately better. Amazing, even. There was a huge downhill out of nowhere, and I didn't even care. Spectators were yelling "GO BIRMINGHAM" and for some reason, I replied to them with "IT'S THE MAGIC CITY" and fist pumps. We turned onto the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, and I saw my family cheering for me!
|Taken by my husband. This is my trademarked "yes, I'm fine!" wave.|
Some dude said, "you're almost done!" and I thought, "naw man, we actually have another mile." (Foreshadowing!) I started to wonder where the course was going to head next, because we were getting very close to the staging area for the race. No! Suddenly, we were directed into the chute. I looked up and saw the clock said 1:40:something and I was pissed! I couldn't believe my watch was so off! Could it really be possible that I had come so close to 1:40? Surely not, given my current fitness. I hadn't seen the 1:45 pacers at any point during the race. For a moment, I actually considered that I had made a mistake and needed to keep going. I ran through the whole chute, weighing my options, while volunteers sort of threw a medal, water bottle, and towel at me.
Yep, Short Course!
Once I got to the tent, it became apparent that, yeah, the course was short by about .6 miles. FARK. I hadn't exited the activity on my watch, and considered making up the distance with a lap around the park. I knew I was on target to run close to 1:45, and felt very confused and disappointed with my time. One of my friends said, "let it go, you're done." So, I turned off my watch. The whole thing was very anticlimactic.
|But still...what a ridiculous gun time!|
Truth be told, I really wish I knew how well I had run this race, specifically over the half marathon distance. Not some arbitrary 12.5 miles. My average pace was 8:12, which would have given me 1:47:30. But I had saved so much for a kick, and I was running a 6:20 pace at the end. I absolutely believe I could have finished the race in 1:45, but I'll never know. It's also too bad I now have a bogus "PR" that sets the bar impossibly high for like...the rest of my life. But at the end of the day, I'm a recreational runner (and not even a terribly fast one) and I run for the thrill of accomplishment and self-improvement. What I enjoy most is the sensation of flying down the road with my mind empty and my body relaxed, not some arbitrary number. And if I'm thinking too deeply about this, you're probably right. That's how I roll.
|She finished less than a minute ahead of me. Reeeeeuniiiiited!|
In the fallout from "Short Course Gate," I saw some truly immature, ungracious, and reprehensible behavior on social media. In the end, the race directors offered half price entry to next year's race for anyone affected. They apologized. They apologized again, with a detailed explanation (BTW the problem was a misunderstanding by the police and was really, truly no one's fault). Throughout the whole thing, I just kept thinking, "WHY U MAD, BRO?"
I had a great time, and would still highly recommend this race to anyone interested. It would even be a great spot for a BQ attempt (hint, hint). I was able to run the entire race well below my BQ pace (I need an 8:15-8:20 pace over the marathon distance to qualify with a decent margin). For that, I am proud. In the half marathon, I ended up 158/1425 overall, and 40/680 for women. I was fourth out of 141 in my age group, so I just missed out on an age group award. Next time!
|Sunny, cold Coolidge Park.|
After the Race
The tent was a hub of activity, and everyone was 1) totally impressed with the beautiful, fast course; 2) confused about the distance; then 3) disappointed in the error. Everyone I spoke to finished happy and healthy, and we just hugged and high-fived and took pictures.
|The sub-1:45 club. Izzy, Carlos, Myrna, me, Gary, and Loren.|
After some confusion, I figured out that the food for runners was being served from a little truck behind the finish. I headed over there and got (okay probably stole) a big cup of coffee from a setup on a card table. I am like a coffee dowser. If there is coffee within my general area, I will find and drink it. Especially after a hard run. I could only finish half of my waffle, because I have no appetite for sweets after a race. What I really want is salt...potato chips, fried eggs, and pickles. Maybe all at the same time. We moved to the sun and I tried to stretch out a bit.
|Crime scene waffle. No thanks.|
We hung around until my urge for shelter and salty food took over, then we wandered around the city looking for the Whole Foods. We bought lunch fixings and walked back to the hotel. In total, I walked about four miles after the race, and I think it really helped my recovery.
We took our time heading home, hanging out in Chattanooga another night for pub food, then taking the scenic route home. We hit up some apple orchards along the way, and BELIEVE YOU ME, there are some apple pies in my future. Like I said, a great weekend.
There, that's the end! You made it!
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.