Field: 1500 combined for both the full and half marathons
Spectators: There are some very passionate fans but also stretches with few.
Start/Finish: 6th Calvary Museum
Course: Double loop course through the battlefield (single loop for the half marathon)
Schwag: Long sleeve tech shirt for the marathoners and full lunch afterward (pizza, soup, cookies, fruit, and of course Moonpies).
Other: This is a great little race with events for the whole family (Junior marathon, 5k, half and full). It's incredible scenic and well thought out.
Back for a second year. I really wasn't sure what to expect from this race going in, and after the 50k in August, I hadn't really considered treating this marathon as a goal race. I'd been out of town for work the week before the race, arrived home with sore and tight legs, and run a 5k only 36 hours before. Not your ideal build up to a marathon, but without over thinking it, race day arrived.
Freezing my tail off pre-race. Yes, that's frost.
The weathermen had predict high 30s for race morning with the day peaking in the 60s and I dressed for that. Unfortunately as they got ready to fire the start cannon (yes, I said cannon), they announced that it was only 26 degrees. Dressed in my skirt and knee socks, I was feeling it. In fact my toes were frozen solid from walking through the field and I didn't feel them for the first few miles.
Getting ready to fire the very loud cannon.
I detailed my lack of time goals on Friday and my plan was to see how I felt on race morning and adjust my pace accordingly. I did have a sub 4 hour full of my year's list of goals and I had not forgotten about it. I wasn't sure how possible it was, but my training paces all gave be the gumption to give it a try as long as that pace felt doable. I knew there was a shot of a burn out and I was ok with a slowdown in the second half. I've never done a good job at taking chances with pace in the marathon, and figured today was a good day to give it a try as long as my body felt up to it. With that, I lined up with the 4 hour pacers at the start to see what the day had to offer. Pre-race I decided never to look at my garmin, and I never did until the finish line.
The Jayhawk looking cold, but ready pre-race.
My least favorite part of this course comes during mile 2, but that's a relative statement. I really like this course. Running through beautiful fields and forests during fall is always a treat for someone living in the city. This course showcases the beauty of north Georgia while highlighting the countless monuments of one of the bloodiest battles of the civil war. But still to say, mile 2 is my least favorite. It is a mix of trail and pavement that connects the start/finish are to the other park roads, and a tough thing to go through with a crowd. This is where I got ahead of the 4 hour group while searching for sure footing.
The bling. Each year they highlight a different monument in the park.
Once I we exited the trail like component of the course, I realized I had sped up and wasn't far behind the 3:50 pace group and my pace felt fine. With a moment of trepidation, I decided to join them. My rationale was that even if I could only hang with them for 10 or so miles, that might give me the time boost I needed for a sub 4 finish. While with the 4 hour group, I would have to find speed and get ahead of them at some point. I swear this tenuous logic made sense during the race.
So off I went with the 3:50 pace group, learning the names of the pacers and my co-pacees. Slowly carving out my place within the group with the knowledge that I might be the last racer to join and the first one to fall behind. I figured even if I held on for half the race, the experience would give me the benefit of a long tempo run.
After the finish hanging out with the cannon.
And the miles began to tick by. And by. And there I remained, tucked in the back of the group waiting to for it to be too fast, but still running at a comfortably challenging pace. I learned the stories of my co-pacees, enjoyed the conversation that unfolded, tried my best to add to it. I reveled in their companionship, and truly enjoyed their conversation (especially the gentleman running his 50th marathon/49th state), all the while feeling like my identity as a sub 4 hour imposter would be revealed at some point when I would non-ceremoniously hit the wall.
But it didn't. We passed the halfway mark right on time and there I was with no major issues. No reason to break stride and no reason to slowdown, so on I went. 14, 15, 16 came and went without issue. It wasn't until mile 17 that I started to feel that I was slipping back and I was incredibly ok with it. I watched as the group slowly opened up a gap after an aid station, but it never went beyond 100 yards or so. I kept them in my sights knowing full well if I could still see them, I would still be sub 4. Their pack or 6-8 bounded up the gentle inclines and weaved through the curves of the course, and I stalked them like a
graceful cheetah little sibling trying to catch up.
Rocking my race shirt on my recovery walk a few days later.
18 passed then 19, and some how during an inclined during the 20th mile, I realized that gap was closing. I made the decision to bridge it (Thank you hill work!) and rejoined the waning group. 20, 21, 22. The group continued to thin, but I stuck with it. Hanging off the back a bit and locking into that mental zone, I was constantly reminding myself that it was actually happening. Then 23 arrived. The lead pacer was running solo and the other pacer was checking around to see who might still be with them. She dropped back to give me a pep-talk (twice), and I appreciated the confidence she had in me. With 5k to go, I pulled in the head phones and hoped that 5k playlist I had was magic. Just 5k. Something I run so often.
25 arrived. 1.2 miles to go. I can put up with anything for less than 15 minutes, right? Was I feeling awesome? No, but I knew there was no real reason to stop. Nothing was broken, falling off, or in need of immediate assistance. In fact the faster I ran, the faster I could sit down (note: this didn't cause me to run any faster). I could feel the tightening in my quads and hips and knew that I would be feeling it for the next few days, but I also knew I would regret any conscious lightening up on the pace. So on I trudged.
Coming into the finish. All smiles.
I exited the trail-like element and could hear the finish. This part seemed epically long last year, but this year it was the start of the victory march. Though I couldn't see it, I knew the finish was in reach and I would be far ahead of schedule. I weaved through the last couple turns and emerged at the top of the field. The finish was in sight, and there was no reason not to empty the little that remained in the tank. Rounding the left hand turn into the finish, I could barely contain my smile. I waved to the Jayhawk (furiously trying to take my picture) and set my sights on the wide open finishing stretch. My chip time was 3:50:43 (Note the pacers came in within 2 seconds of their pace time. So impressive!)
Post race, loving lucky bib #26.
To my excitement, Chris who I ran with at last year's 7 Bridges Marathon was volunteering at the finish line and was ready to hand me a medal (so fun to get one from a familiar face). The Jayhawk also had a fabulous day, nailing his pre-race plan and finishing his first half!! As a nice touch, the race gives any first time finish (full or half) a framed copy of their bib with their name on it. Wondering around the finish line we ran into Katie, a teammate of my from Ragnar Trails Atlanta in April. She had just set a great PR as well and qualified for Boston!
I am really proud of this race. I took a big step outside my comfort zone, challenged myself to not settle on my pace, and it paid off. My previous PR was set last year at this race, and I broke it this year by almost 20 minutes this year. Even a few days later, I am still trying to wrap my head around it and convince myself that it happened.
Have you ever taken a chance on race day? Have you ever surprised yourself on race day?