Running Atlanta – A Race Recap

I must admit that I enjoy a good race through city streets surrounded by tall buildings.  Throw in some historic sites along the way, and I’m in love.  I guess that’s what keeps me coming back to Atlanta for this event.  This was my fifth year participating in the Publix Georgia Half Marathon/Marathon, but only my second time running the full marathon.

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View from the hotel

Training:

I’d love to say that I followed a proper marathon training regimen to prepare for Georgia, but I’d be lying if I said that.  In fact, I didn’t register for the race until March 1st (race was on March 22nd).  I’d been following my IM training plan since January, so I was running 4-5 times/week, but most of my scheduled runs weren’t longer than an hour, including my long runs and most were Z2 runs.  Luckily, sometime in February I knew that if signing up for Georgia was a possibility, I needed to get in some longer runs, so I started adding in some extra miles.  Unfortunately, my longest runs leading in to this race were an 11, 13, 14, and 16 miler.  Not at all ideal training, and for someone who only has a few marathons under her belt, I was just asking for injury….or a day of suffering.

Week of the race:

The week leading up to the race had me questioning why I had chosen to run the full and not the half marathon.  After all, I wasn’t feeling properly trained for a full marathon and on top of that, I felt like I was coming down with something.  I made sure I took vitamins daily, drank echinacea tea, and tried to get extra rest.  By the end of the week, I was feeling better but I had only put in two workouts the entire week.  YIKES!!

Race weekend:

My training partner (aka the Hubs), my sister, and I all headed to Atlanta Saturday morning.  Columbia is about 3.5 hours away from Atlanta, so it’s not too bad of a drive.  When we arrived in Atlanta, we checked in to our hotel and then we were off to packet pick-up and the expo.  Packet pick-up was smooth, no long lines.  The expo….well, if you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all.  Actually, this year’s expo was the smallest and most disappointing that I’ve seen for this race.

Race Day: 

My alarm clock went off just before 5:00 am.  I already knew what the weather forecast was predicting, but I secretly hoped it had changed over night.  With one peek out of my balcony window, I knew the weather forecast was spot on…rain, rain, and more rain.  I typically don’t mind rain on a run if the temps are in the 70s or higher.  Race morning the temps were in the low 50s.  This was going to be my first marathon in what I was sure was going to be a downpour the entire 26.2 miles.

I showered, lubed up with tons of Bodyglide and Aquaphor, applied Urban Decay’s Cannonball (a must for me!) and got dressed.  It was my first race as a SOAS Racing and Headsweats Ambassador.  And, I won’t lie.  It was pretty motivating to put on my SOAS team gear and slide on my new favorite Headsweats trucker.

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For breakfast, I ate a simple ingredient protein bar, 3 mangoes, and sipped on some coffee.  After breakfast, I mixed up my race day nutrition.  This was going to be my first marathon relying solely on Tailwind Nutrition – no gels, bars, or food provided on course.  Typically, this type of nutrition plan would make me nervous because I’ve ALWAYS used gels (and always hated them). However, I had been using Tailwind since October of 2014, and I’ve never felt more confident in a nutrition product!  I opted for the Naked flavor, which I have totally fallen in love with lately.  So good!!

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At 6:35ish, dressed in ponchos, the 3 amigos headed out the door to our start corrals.  Both my sister and hubs always have corrals in the early part of the alphabet.  Me, I was slated for corral L, but I ended up in corral K, I think.  Before I knew it, the herd of runners were moving forward and I knew it was time to get the show on the road!  I shedded my poncho, hit play on my iPod, checked my Garmin, and started making my way to the start line with the thousands of other runners who were ready to take on the hills and the rain.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

I finally reached the start line about 7 minutes after the race began.  I hit start on my Garmin and settled into an easy pace with my heart rate sitting right in low Z2.  Originally, my plan was to use this race as a training run, but somewhere between miles 1 and 2 another plan came into mind.  My marathon PR was on this very course when I ran it in 2014, and I wanted to see how much time I could shave off.  Yes, there was a good bit of arguing going on in my head because I knew that there could be consequences.  Big ones.  “You haven’t trained properly; you’ll get injured.”  “C’mon, let’s see what you can do; push yourself.”  Finally, I decided that I’d run for a PR and if I got it, great.  If not, I couldn’t be disappointed because I hadn’t put the proper training in. With that decision, I knew what I had to do – start banking time.  The front half of this course is much easier than the back half.  The back half is relentless with the ups and downs.  Nothing steep.  Just constant rolling.

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The first miles of this race ticked by quickly.  There’s so much to see!  All in the first seven miles you run by Georgia State University, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, the Carter Center, the eclectic Little 5 Points, and of course, there’s the gorgeous skyline view from the Jackson St. bridge.  Lots of people stop on the bridge to take selfies.  Not this chick.  I was on a mission – PR.  Not to mention, I didn’t have my phone with me because I didn’t want to chance it in the rain.  Speaking of rain, the first 7 miles or so, the rain was light.  Kind of refreshing actually.

Just after mile 7, the half marathon and marathon course splits.  This is where I go from running with too many people to being all alone.

Truth be told.  I’m a bit of a “cat” runner and I tend to enjoy running alone…suffering alone.  So, as I was saying, once the half and marathon course splits, there’s very few runners to be seen.  At least that’s true for us BOPs (back of the packers).  And then there’s THE right hand turn in to Candler Park that’s accompanied by a pretty decent hill.  Once in Candler Park, the run becomes more residential and the tall buildings of downtown are no where to be seen. Then, it’s off to Decatur.

Up to this point, everything felt great.  I was feeling strong both mentally and physically.  Once in Decatur, the rain started to pick up.  While there’s not a whole lot to see in the Decatur area, at least on the run course, the community does a great job of lining the streets with entertaining signs.  I made it a point to read each one to keep my mind focused on something other than the rain and the fact that I was starting to feel like I needed to make a pit stop at a porta-potty soon…very soon.  At the half way point, I was running an average pace that would bring me in to the finish line for my first sub 5 marathon, but I knew that was a tall order.   After all, there’s a LONG way to go after mile 13 in a marathon and my longest run in training was only 16 miles.  Finally, at mile 13.5, I knew I had to stop.  Nature was calling and I was not happy about it.  A pit stop at the porta-potty was going to take time – time that I had banked at the beginning.  I was frustrated.  I didn’t want to lose time to a bathroom break, but it had to happen.  Not to mention, I’m a bit of a germaphobe so I absolutely HATE porta-potties, especially the ones at races.  I’ll spare you the details of this stop and just say that the porta-potty I chose was a complete disaster area.  Add in soaking wet clothes and cheap toilet paper.  Yeah.  Enough said.

I wrapped up my pit stop as quickly as possible and got back to it.  I hate stopping in a race.  It took my body a few minutes to get back in to the swing of things and from that point on, I had a hard time getting myself back into it mentally.  Once I hit mile 16, Negative Nancy made her way into my head.  “You know this is the longest you’ve run in training. It’s raining.  There are lots of hills back here.  You better slow down.  Forget that PR.” I swear you would have thought it was my first marathon.  It was one negative thought after another, and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t shake it.  My mental game was quickly going out the window, and by mile 19, the pain had arrived.  My legs were really starting to hurt and I could feel the lack of training.  At mile 21, I began unraveling like a thread in a cheap shirt.  And just as I was about to enter the dreaded Piedmont Park, I had a moment of clarity.  I reminded myself that I knew how to suffer.  “You run this distance after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112. Suck it up, buttercup!”  From that point on, I suffered the best way I knew how and tried to focus on the sights as I made my way back towards downtown Atlanta and Centennial Park where the finish line awaited me.  There were definitely a few walk breaks, but when I walked, I walked with a purpose – like a mall walker.

As I reached the last aid station and grabbed a cup of water, I took one last look at my Garmin to see just how bad the damage was.  I was only about 1.2 miles from the finish, but that last section is no walk in the park.  I was set for a PR, but how much of a PR I was going to get was yet to be determined.  Luckily, I found a guy who was wearing an IM Switzerland hat so I struck up a conversation with him in hopes that talking to someone would keep me running and keep my mind off of the pain.  We swapped IM stories for a solid .5 mile and then he said, “see you at the finish” and he started walking.  That left me running the last stretch alone.

The last .5 mile seemed to go on for days, but finally, I reached the left hand turn into Centennial Olympic Park.  I crossed the finish line in 5:12:53.  Yes, I know.  I am turtle-slow.  But, on this day I was 28 minutes faster than I was the previous year.  And that my friends, is something to celebrate.  I call that progress!  I may be slow, but I’m still moving forward and getting it done!

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