Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Atlanta ING half marathon

I got home late last night from a little trip down South where I went to run the ING Atlanta half marathon. That was just one exclamation point part of a beautifully written weekend where I also attended a two-day running coach certification class and visited one of my oldest and bestest friends who came to watch me race in Atlanta and then took me back to Alabama for a great 22-hour, flash-back-to-the-past girly-fest. But back to the race, as this blog entry pertains to running and not necessarily power-shopping for pink attire and my weekend over-indulgence-of-way-too-many-fat-ridden-calories.

The race could not have unfolded better!!!

My hotel was right smack at start of the race start-line. Sweet!!! I woke up in a bit of a sleep-induced fog. I hadn't been sleeping well and I took one (I swear, only ONE) Tylenol PM before I went to bed and I'm not sure if my morning funk was the affects from the pill or the fact that I was just dead tired from the crazy weekend where I had not slept that well...but I was tired and I was concerned. Usually, I am on such an adrenaline/endorphin high that it doesn't even matter if I get an hour of sleep before a race, I'm up and raring to go. There was not a microwave in the hotel so I tried to make some hot water in the coffee pot; I needed some tea and I needed my oatmeal....preferably hot for both. Well, in what had to be the most comical tea/oatmeal making experience ever (this little coffee pot turned hot pot was not working as well as I wanted it to and I had water from one end of the hotel to the other), I managed to get both, though only about half of what I wanted out of each and by the time I actually was able to half eat half drink my luke-warm oatmeal mixed with peanut butter, it was about 20 minutes before the start and I was concerned...I can have stomach problems and knew that this was not adequate time for my food to settle before I started running. And I was feeling it as I lined up.

For whatever reason I keep getting placed in the corral with the elite runners. Happened last year which caused me a lot of anxiety and it happened again this year ....but I knew the ropes now and knew I could move back with no consequences. Still....I have yet to figure out why they place me in a corral with 99% male athletes from Kenya having no more than 4% body fat. One look at me and it's obvious I don't belong there.

It's dark at the start and it's a bit cool...probably hovering around 48ish. At least it's not raining, yet I have no idea if it's going to warm quickly. I place myself behind the first corral but there is no one here monitoring corral numbers like there are in #1 and as I look around, there are corral numbers ranging from 2-10. And the runners' bodies showed. Oh boy. I handed Lisa my coat and in I went with about 5 minutes to the start. As I look around, I see the 3:50 marathon group off to the side, slightly ahead of me. I compute what half of a 3:50time is and figure that if I wanted to run faster than a 1:50 half, I was going to need to stay ahead of them. Somehow. Firing of the gun and off we go.

It's crowded....very crowded. The start of the race is in the heart of downtown and you turn a few sharp turns in the first mile....though I never do find this mile marker and I have no idea of my pace. I'm trying to get into my own race but it's just crowded and as soon as you get into a comfortable stride, then you have to navigate your way around people and position yourself again. It's a huge battle and I have thoughts that Boston will be exactly like this. By mile 2, you disembark the high rises for a the 5-points area and my calf starts to tighten up. I also notice my watch and am averaging about an 8:15 pace. Too slow...but the crowded are still thick and I decide not to take off yet, just try to stayed controlled yet quick. Mile 3 I hit at 7:56...much better. Right after mile 3, you come up upon MLK's birth house and that brings a kinda tingle down your spine. Mile 4is an 8:02 pace but it's also a lot uphill. Mile 5 is around these gorgeous antebellum homes....I hit it with a 7:26. Opps. I just decided that my time was what it was going to be....I could not run any faster to keep a consistent pace to the end so I decided to run hard yet tried to remain controlled. Push but don’t over-extend. Feel a wonderful hurt. I had some annoying right calf tugging, left knee throbbing, and inevitable stomach tension but I did not let it bother me; I looked forward, pushed hard, listened to my iPod, and looked at this drop-dead gorgeous course. Mile 10 was the first time I actually looked at my watch and tried to compute an overall-finish time but my mind wasn’t functioning enough to do simple math and I thought I’d just continue on my unknown finish-time path, and when I crossed, I crossed with whatever I was given. But I did look around and got a warm fuzzy feeling when I realized that I (me!) was surrounded by “guys” with a few of us girls sprinkled in the mix. I was no-longer a mid-pack runner and it gave me the strength to pick up my pace and run stronger than I ever had to the end (7:19 mile - yes!). That is always how I want to finish my races: fatigued but strong.

I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, got my medal, a post-race banana, mini cinnamon raisin bagel, and some Gatorade and happily munched my gourmet meal as I wandered around the finish-line melee looking for my friend. Suddenly, I realized something. I had fun! I had a great time! Even though I pushed hard and the race hurt in various degrees and levels, I didn't have a start-line panic attack, I didn't dwell on fear, possible lack of preparedness, potential bonking, or other people's progress. I didn't obsess about my pace or my time or even where I’d finish. I was too busy thinking that now was my moment, now was the time to push hard yet remain controlled, now was my time to see what I had and shine. What a immense emotion!!! Now if I can just hold this feeling, cup it carefully in my hand the way I used to catch fireflies as a child, Boston in three weeks is going to go well. It's funny how you can train for other aspects of running, but you can't train joy. It blinks and disappears; elusive as that firefly, but when you have it ...you are a different runner.

Just like the way I pick up shells when I walk on the beach (as if taking something fragile and portable will suffice as a symbol of the magnitude of the ocean), I will store Atlanta's race memories in my mind and when I need to escape or find my way, I will run this past weekend’s half marathon steps in my head and relive that incredible day. Race day was a gift from God, showing me what happens when I learn to trust, learn to quit striving, and relax my way into being me. A true self has to be inhabited, not coerced. I am a new girl and I ran like one: 1:44:11. Not bad, for an ordinary runner......and, that's a PR (Personal Record) baby!!!!!

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