I don’t run for PRs, though they are nice. For me running is about testing my running heart, testing my ability to push through a difficult course and the ability to overcome physical obstacles and knowing that even when you cannot push through difficult workouts or training runs some days, that crossing that finish line gives you one more day of fight and someone, somewhere may be inspired to push themselves just a bit more than yesterday. As a great runner friend pointed out yesterday when I posted that my half marathon finish yesterday was not my best time to date she reassured me with this reminder, ‘some days it’s not about the time when finishing a half’.
I have looked forward to fall racing season for months now. But this race in particular because I would finally get to meet my I Run 4 match Carly and her family at the finish line. On Saturday morning, my running partner Tammy P. and I hit the road to Atlanta for the first fall half in Buckhead. What was normally a 4 hour drive turned into 6 for us, but we had a great time relaxing and getting some great conversation in on the ride. We planned to get into Atlanta and head straight to packet pickup since this race was on a smaller scale than most, it had no expo so we picked up everything at the local running store, Road Runner Sports. Next we headed to check into the hotel, which thankfully I planned to have closer to the race start to eliminate the potential for traffic issues the morning of the race. Perfectly located just 3 miles from the 7 am race start we were very relieved, though the traffic on Saturday afternoon was horrific since we were just blocks from Lenox Mall. We checked out the race start area and grabbed race morning breakfast items that we would need and then headed to dinner.
Tammy P. likes to have pasta for her pre-half dinner the night before a race, so we found a great Italian restaurant within walking distance to our hotel, Maggiano’s Little Italy. Pasta dinner, check! We also indulged, probably against our better judgment in one of our favorite desserts, Creme Brulé that was so amazing that we each opted for devoured our own! Totally worth the calories for the few minutes of sinful goodness on a plate. We finished up dinner and then headed back to the hotel to get our gear ready to go and to relax and get some sleep before our 5 am alarm went off.
Race morning arrived and we planned to meet several of our Atlanta area Moms RUN This Town Mamas at the race start. We were really excited to see two of the Mamas that we met at this years Breast Cancer Marathon in Jacksonville, Heather and Anna. Heather would end up being my race ‘rabbit’ and Anna is always one of the best cheerleaders/paparazzi that any runner could ever ask for!
We lined up in our corral that corresponded with our time that we looked to finish and waited for the start. Race announcements, singing of the National Anthem and then each corral moved up to their point to start the race. AND THERE OFF!
Heather had warned us that the course was a very hilly tough course that she ran the year before so be prepared for anything, and boy was she right! The race course started out with an immediately incline just after crossing the start line. I quickly struggled to get my breathing under control as all the race excitement quickly got the best of me. But as we rounded the corner, I quickly got myself in check and began to find my pace. The first turn came up that would take us through the first 6 miles and boy, the hills were certainly no joke for the entire first half of the race. Up down, up down, it seemed to be never-ending. I did not know what to expect as far as the difficulty continuing at this rate so I opted to slow to my 10:40 pace to make sure I could maintain a good pace throughout. In earlier weeks I made sure that I trained on the hilly courses that I mapped out to be as prepared as I could for the anticipated inclines, but boy, this was beyond my realm of what I even thought may be a tough course. As I began to see some struggling with the hills and walking I resolved in my head that no matter how slow I went up the next hill, I would be sure to just keep running, and I did. Through 6.5 back to back to back to back hills. I was very thankful for the flat areas and minimal declines that they mapped out for us. I passed each mile marker and touched the green flag hanging beside it. An internal bit of self-confidence booster that I helped me push to the next mile.
As I rounded the top of mile 6.5 I heard a lot of spectators cheering for the runners. I began looking and hoping to see Carly and her family somewhere along the way there and sure enough, at the top of the hill I spotted their group. All bearing signs and I began waving. I think Carly saw me waving at her before anyone else and she began squealing (her way of communicating that she is happy, according to her family). It was very overwhelming to see them and run past, so much so that I fought back tears for the next half mile which I knew I still had half of the race to go. We passed the race start area and were led down towards the course that we had just finished and in my head I thought O-M-GEEEE we have to run that again, but we kept going past the turn off about a mile and a half to another neighborhood entrance that would led us to the final half of the race.
I was feeling good, even though the first half of the race was difficult. I was even on track at that point to get a PR race in. I was very excited, though my racing is not about time these days. A difficult first half and on track for my finish goal, I was feeling confident. I ran this race for the first time with my FuelBelt hydration belt and two 10 oz. bottles, which I had also used on all my training runs. This race had a lot of water stations, but instead of getting stopped by the bottleneck of runners stopping, I opted to use those stations as my prompt to make sure I hydrated. Unfortunately, I removed my extra two 7 oz bottles before the race because I didn’t want to carry unnecessary extra items, that proved to be a huge mistake. In the three half marathons that I ran in the Spring, I fueled hard courses with Sport Beans, which I am thankful that I stuck with what I knew worked for me because this race took every bit of extra everything I had to finish. I finished the last of my beans around mile 10 and was quickly wishing that I had brought the extra pill bottle full in my pack along with the extra water. I began to start the course that ran us through a park and some very welcomed shaded paved trails. Lots of inspiring “push through” chalk notes awaited us including one that just make me think THAT’S THE DAMN TRUTH. It was a huge written note that said, “welcome to the Tour de Hills” and I think all the other runners that were passing that with me resounded in a sigh of agreement.
As we came out of the park area to what everyone around me was already talking of, I knew I was in trouble with no water left and ahead would be what in my mind will always be heartbreak hill at mile 11. Straight up for what seemed to last a half a mile and it just kept going and going. All the energy I could muster just wasn’t there anymore and I had to stop and walk. Heartbreaking when you’ve pushed through 11 miles to that point. But I knew that there was no option to stay healthy, but to suck it up and know that there is no shame in walking on a very tough course so I just kept a swift gait about me and pushed through. As I reached mile 12 I began to see spectators again cheering for the runners and one sign just made me laugh out-LOUD and I wished that I captured a picture of it. It read, “After mile 8 NEVER TRUST A FART!” and I think that little burst of laughter make me muster up whatever I had left to get to through the last 1.1 I had to finish the race. I also knew at the finish line Carly would be waiting for me with her family.
As we turned to go to the finish, a steep decline, though welcomed, was not what my knees wanted at that point. I had to make an effort to slow myself down which put a little more stress on my knees that I really wanted, but it felt good to know that I did not have to go up anymore. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see a finish line. I immediately began to look for Tammy and for Carly and her family. Tammy was waiting for me with a smile and told me that she had finished with a PR and I was so happy for her. She pushed through those hills and finished in 2 hours and 12 minutes! I couldn’t be more proud of her.
I finally found Carly and her family and it was such a sweet moment. Carly began to squeal and her Mom Patti welcomed me with a huge hug. They also presented me with a sweet gift bag full of goodies and a special locket that will always hold a special place close to my heart. As I reflected back on my day, I posted this comment before heading to rest for the evening.
Today I had on of my toughest races to date. The course was challenging every single turn of a new mile and my emotional connection to this race will always hold a very special place like no other race in my heart. The look in a child’s eyes is always enough to melt your heart, but the look and emotions from a special needs child which I received in a moments hug today from Carly will forever live within me and especially on race day. Thank you so much Patti & Waylon for bringing her and your family today. It was truly amazing! Much love!!
My official finish for this race was 2:37:51. Though it is no where close to my best half marathon finish, this was truly one of my best half marathons. I ran the entire race with all my heart knowing that I would not give up or give in. My legs were strong and my heart heavy, but nothing would keep me from finishing the race strong.
I have three weeks until my next race and what will be four weeks of back to back half marathons. This race showed me that I’m ready for any challenge that lies ahead and that no matter what you can Never.Stop.Pushing!