What an awesome day. Plain ‘n simple.
This was my second year running in the ING in Atlanta. Last year, I did the half marathon as my first-ever half marathon (1:42) and promised the guy leading my pace group that I would be back a year later to run the full 26.2. I didn’t break my promise.
This time, I piled into a car with some neighborhood friends and made the short drive downtown.
It’s awesome to be able to run such a great race in your own backyard. However, the convenience of the race produced some real scatterbrain moments on my part. First, I walked away from my car without my water bottle belt. I got a block away and had to run back to the parking garage to get it. Then, while waiting to meet up with a friend in Centennial Park, I realized I also left my timing chip in the car. DOH! I had to run four blocks to get back to the car and run back to the park.
When I finally got my act together, I waited in the park until about 6:45 to meet the friend I was supposed to run with. In the end, we never found each other. He wanted to run a 3:45, but I secretly wanted to try to break 3:30. So truth be told, I wasn’t entirely upset that we never met up.
Here he is coming in at 3:44.
I head to Corral C, listen to the National Anthem, and quickly we take off. I cross the start line about 50 seconds after the gun.
Now that I don’t have my running partner, I have to develop a new race plan on the fly. I spot the 1:45 half marathon pace group and realize this is an 8-minute pace. I decide to hang with them for a while. This is a perfect pace for me for 13 miles, but I wonder what I will feel like over the second half of the race.
And look at that… the 1:45 pacer was the same guy from a year earlier. I make my way over to him and remind him that I promised him I would be back. He wished me luck and off we went.
Throughout the course, my plan to preserve energy is take it real easy on the uphill sections (there are a LOT of them) and go at a controlled pace on the downhills to keep from blowing out my quads. Then I will push the pace a little on the flat sections to make up time. Anybody who has run the ING in Atlanta will tell you that the flat sections are so valuable because the hills can be so punishing. You need to take advantage of the “easy” sections when you can. At least that’s what my game plan was.
While I wasn’t familiar with the entire course, I had scouted out some key sections in the weeks leading up to the race. I even took the time to run a really hilly 4.5-mile section through Druid Hills. There are a lot of hills in Druid HILLS…. I know, go figure. This was a HUGE learning step for me, and it really paid off on race day.
When it came time to tackle that section, I was ready for it — unlike my experience in NYC when the Queensboro Bridge completely wiped me out! — In Druid Hills, there are about 4-5 hills in a row, with each one a little worse than the next. This section was clearly taking its toll on some. I passed about 5-6 runners who had sped past me earlier in the race. These same speed demons were now walking up the hills, hunched over and gasping for air. I smiled a little on the inside…Does that make me a bad person? I think not.
(As a sidenote, I got passed in this section by a girl in a Cornell shirt… I don’t like to be passed…We chatted briefly about Cornell’s big win in the NCAA Tournament. I made a mental note of it and said to myself… I bet I will see her again. I decided to name her “Big Red” after the school’s nickname. Sure enough, I passed “Big Red” at about Mile 24 as we were making our way through the Georgia Tech section. As I pass, I give her a motivational shout out “Come on Big Red, finish strong!” She had nothing left it seemed… Again, I smile a little on the inside.)
In Druid Hills, knowing what was coming was more of a mental thing for me. As I passed one runner after another struggling on the hills, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.
As much as my scouting trip helped me, the biggest lesson I learned from this marathon was to hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more. In NYC, I blew off many of the early water stations because I “wasn’t thirsty.” BAD mistake! I completely cramped up in my legs at Mile 19 and barely finished.
I wasn’t about to make that mistake again.
For this race, I drank about four 16 oz. water bottles with Nuun electrolyte tabs in them the day before. Then during the race, I make sure I grab some Gatorade at almost every water station. I think I only skipped one water station for the entire race. In addition, I ran with two water bottles on a belt and used them to wash down a Gu pack (Gu Roctane Blueberry Pomegrante flavor) about every six miles or so. I even had a few Gu Chomps to chew on at various points of the race. That may seem like a lot to some, but it worked for me.
By the time I reached Piedmont Park, I was still felling pretty good and picked up the pace a little through the park. Then I exited the park… WOW! There is section up 12th Street that leads to Spring Street… No words can describe this hill. I was determined not to walk up it. Not for a single step. I made it to the top, “running” the entire way.
You can see the hill here, at about Mile 23.
I’m not sure who you people were standing on the side of the road on this hill clanging your cowbells and cheering, but you get the gold star from me! Without these fine folks I’m pretty sure this hill would have destroyed me.
Once I make it up this hill, I know I’m home free. As we make the turn for downtown, I spot the CNN sign up ahead and head for home. As I make my way down the final stretch, I try to keep and eye out for my wife and kids. I look on both sides of the street over the final mile, but can’t find them!
But they spotted me…
My wife snapped the picture above right about at the moment I see the clock and realize I can break 3:30! I’m so pumped that I don’t hear them yelling for me… It didn’t help that I had my headphones in either I guess.
After I cross the line, I take a second to gather myself. When I realize that I have now accomplished the third goal on my list of four goals this year (break 3:30 in a marathon — DONE, break 1:35 in a half marathon — DONE, break 42 min in 10k — DONE and break 20 min in a 5k — NOT done, yet.) I give myself a huge fist pump. After all, running is a solo endeavor, for the most part, and if you don’t stop to give yourself a fist pump every so often, who will?
A split second after my fist pumping subsides, I hear “DADDY!” from the other side of the fence. I spot my daughter running through the crowded finish area. We meet over at the fence barrier. Hugs all around. My son give me a high-five. I snag a kiss from the wife. My day is complete…. Now, when can I do it all again!?