Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Race Report: Publix Georgia Half Marathon

Yes, I had a "luck o' the Irish" kind of day Sunday!  I came home smiling big after sharing a amazing morning with many happy runner friends.  I also surprised myself with a bright shiny new half marathon PR on the maiden voyage run of the Publix Georgia Half Marathon course.

Official time: 1:38:58 (7:33 pace)
10K Split: 46:06 (7:25 pace)
8 Mile Split: 1:00:10 (7:31 pace)

Field Placement:
Women 45-49:  4 out of 510 (0.8%)
All Women:  86 out of 4,954 (1.7%)
Overall:  400 out of 8,743 (4.6%)

Early Saturday, the day before the race, I met up with my most screamin' fast runner girlfriend, Rachelle (AKA Mighty Mouse), to have a delicious breakfast at West Egg.  It was so refreshing to be able to talk face-to-face with her without having to agonize over where my next breath would be coming from!  We caught up on the various stuff of our personal lives and then discussed race strategy.  Since Rachelle had run this course several times, she helped me visualize the tough spots and told me where I was likely to have the best chance for a few "zen" moments.

After breakfast, we drove down to the Georgia World Congress Center together to enjoy the expo and pick up our race bibs.  We were glad to both be in the A corral for this event so we could at least start together.  While we were there, I got a little crazy and bought a pair of limited edition Newton Gravity shoes (my latest go-to shoes since the PureFlow 2s just didn't work).  As you can see, they are quite...um...PINK!  The guy at the Newton tent revealed (when we asked him) that his marathon PR was 2:18.  That's some serious stuff!

When I first signed up for this race, I knew it would be only a week before I had another half marathon (the Berry Half) on an easier course.  Berry was to be my goal race.  Therefore, I decided this race would sort of serve as a dress rehearsal.  Somewhere along the way, I got this crazy idea to try to run a sub-1:38 at Berry.  I reasoned that this first race would help me know whether I stood a chance at that lofty goal or not.  My most recent half marathon PR was a 1:40:13 back in October, but this was supposed to be a harder course, so I really had no idea what I might do.  While at the expo, Rachelle and I both signed up to run with the 1:40 pace group, though I secretly knew she would be way ahead of that (and she was!), and reasoned that I would feel satisfied to come in at 1:42ish.

The day before the race, I drank 4 Nuun All Day caplets to ensure I was properly hydrated.  It had seemed to help before the last marathon.  I also laid out my new splurge outfit from lululemon.  I figured the green would be great for both St. Patrick's Day AND for the Alien Half in August.  Bonus!

On race morning, I first found my friend, Shawna, after playing a game of warmer/colder on the phone to locate each other.  She introduced me to another friend who is training for Boston.  When I suggested I might try for a 1:42 time, she suggested we start out running together.

Next, I met up with Rachelle in the A corral.  We looked around for two other friends, Mike and Tad, but without success.  Later I learned they were incredibly busy hamming it up for the camera!  Rachelle was being smart and stretching, bouncing, and doing the things I saw all the other A corral runners doing, but I was way too itchy to do anything strategic at that time.  Sometimes I feel like I'm only impersonating a "real runner!"

As the gun went off, I could tell the crowds were going to make the first mile tedious and slow-going.  To make matters worse, the pavement was cracked and wrinkled and filled with median dividers that seemingly came up out of nowhere.  For a moment, my mind wondered back to a little accident I had a couple weeks ago where my cheek and knees had an unfortunate meeting with the sidewalk.  I let out a little audible gasp, and Shawna's friend asked if I was okay.  I told her about my flashback to the accident and then kept my eyes glued to the ground.

One strategy that seems to work well for me is to sail down hills at a very rapid speed with my arms and shoulders relaxed and my legs just letting gravity take over.  It seemed to pay off nicely as I zoomed down several hills in the beginning while still resting my lungs.  Going up was tough, but the hills were fairly short, so I was able to keep a good pace.  At Mile 4, I was pleased to see the 1:40 pace group just up ahead.  Though I had not stayed with them at the start, I decided to try to stick with them for the rest of the race or as long as I could hold on.

At Mile 6, I was sort of joking (to no one in particular) about how it would be really nice if the earth could be tilted just a fraction of a degree for about the last 20 minutes of the race.  A guy heard me and laughed.  Then, he smiled over at me and looked at the name on my bib.  "Gail!" he exclaimed.  "Randy!" I exclaimed back.  Of all things, I ran into a high school classmate I hadn't seen in [...mumble, mumble] years!  He said he was running the full and aiming for a 3:20 (I later learned he hit 3:22 and qualified for Boston on that hilly, awful course!).  We plowed up the next hill together and he made it seem effortless.  Soon after that, he had to turn right and I had to turn left.  I can't tell you how glad I was NOT to be running the full marathon that morning.

Next, I saw a girl who was wearing the exact same black lulu skirt I had on and who looked very pretty and fit.  I was inspired to catch up with her, so I sped up a little.  Just as I complimented her on her awesome skirt, she looked up and said, "Gail!" and I looked back and said, "Renee!"  Though we had never met, she and I are both in this Running Divas group on Facebook, and we had talked about running together as recently as the night before.  It was wonderful to meet a new friend in person and run together a while.  We both stayed right behind those same two 1:40 pace girls and felt like our pace was very comfortable.  I reasoned that if I could keep up with them for 9 miles, maybe I could still hit 1:42.

I knew the worst hills were in miles 9 through 12, so I was bracing myself.  As we started up Juniper street, Renee kept a great pace and I decided to take it a little slower to ensure I didn't walk.  It was a long, tough hill.  I remember praying about it in my mind.  I asked God to keep me humble.  I knew I had a constant friend beside me all the way who understood.  It helped a whole lot.  However, more hills were still before me.  Luckily, there was always a downhill patch just in time where I caught my breath and made up a little time.

Those next hills are sort of a blur in my mind, but I remember that the wind picked up and added to the challenge.  Once again, I looked over at a guy beside me and cracked a joke about how much fun we were having.  It always helps when you realize that others around you know, in a very deep and personal way, how you are suffering!

At mile 12, I was floored to find that if I merely maintained an easy an 8:00 pace, I could break 1:40!  Really?!!  Then I spotted the 1:40 pace group again.  I had lost them somewhere in those hills.  They said they were running almost a minute fast - a 1:39!  After thanking them for being my rock, I dug in deep and managed to pull slightly ahead of them, plowing up the last incline.  With 0.4 miles to go, I looked at my watch and desperately wished to be done.  The crowds had picked up; they urged me on.  With a huge sigh of relief, I rounded the corner and saw that the very end was downhill.  I cannot express how nice a feeling that was!  I guess I sprinted up to and across the finish line because I managed to assume a fierce floater pose at the end.  My expression sort of says it all!  I saw the clock and knew I had hit a new PR by over a minute.  Even better, it was on this hilly course!  As my friend, Francis, reminds me, "To God be the glory!"

I excitedly texted Rachelle to exchange happy news.  She had run a 1:35!!!  We met up at one of the tents and shared a huge sweaty happy hug!  Then we headed over to pick up our little "tickets" with our official finish time like you see me holding below.  I would be tempted to frame mine except I hope to beat it again in a week. Ha ha.  It's so wonderful when two friends both have great races and can be happy for each other at the same time.

Having trained almost exclusively on a flat trail, I didn't think this course would be kind to my time.  However, the good thing about uphills is that there are also downhills.  I guess it all evened out.  However, writing this a couple days later, I find that my legs are more sore than they have ever been after any race.  I will certainly need a lot of rest this week to ensure I can run fast and happy again Saturday!