Before coronavirus took hold of the US (more on that to come later, as a public health professional or maybe just as an extrovert runner in NYC), I met up with friends in Atlanta to see the Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday 2/29. Then some of us toed the line at a hilly Publix Atlanta Half half on 3/1. I knew the course profile was a far cry from my very flat-coursed half PR (1:57:04) but this was my first half marathon in 13 months (since a fun, easy time at Rock and Roll New Orleans 2019) and the first one I was actually trying to kind of race since Bay Ridge 2018.
The week of, I kept vacillating in my mind between 1) taking the whole thing easy, 2) racing my heart out for a PR attempt at a 8:55 pace or better, or 3) playing it by ear. Reasons I thought I could crush this: I was fairly well tapered. I had put in 8 weeks of NYRR Group Training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Main reason I thought I would falter: After weeks of solid double digit long runs in January and early February, things petered out and ended with me barely squeezing out a two-hour, 11-mile long run 10 days before race day. I also took a Tuesday speed session easy that week, but still possibly had pushed too hard. Maybe I wasn’t well tapered.
The night before, I went out with friends and dinner took a bit longer than I would have liked, so I got to bed later than my planned 10pm. I woke up at 5:45am, had a canned Starbucks iced coffee drink and a Clif Bar, then got dressed. I hadn’t brought throwaway clothes but decided on crops and a long-sleeve with gloves since it was around 40F and some wind (but way less windy than the previous day). Gabby and I met up with Elle and sped-walked to the start and stood in line for bag check. I should have used a port-a-potty but the lines were long and we wanted to get into the B Corral.
Note: I forgot my Garmin so my Apple Watch splits are quite a bit off; obviously I didn’t run perfect tangents but it still said I ran 13.5 miles, so mile estimates are generous. Actual pace from the tracker for 5K and 10K was 9:47, then overall pace was 9:33.
As evident, I did not PR. I took the first mile at “what feels like easy/doable” which was closer to 9:30/mile than 9:00 mile. I was initially a bit bummed that that’s where things are for me (um, but would be delighted if that was even my long run or marathon pace), but Elle was with me and I felt like I could get through this and maybe even enjoy it. I decided to try to run by feel and also negative split if I could. The total elevation gain doesn’t show it well, but the grade adjusted paces do. Every single mile had some sort of hill. Some were short and sweet while others were a bit more sustained.
Early on, I saw my friend Janna and her amazing posters. She then surprised me by cutting through across and showing up again and caught me.
As far as landmarks, there were quite a few, ranging from the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library to Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and his church, plus fun neighborhoods like Five Points and Virginia-Highland.
At Mile 9, I felt strong(ish) and picked up the pace just a bit and separated from Elle, who encouraged me to go on. The last few miles were pretty torturous as we ran back into downtown after going through Piedmont Park. The hills kept coming and my lack of endurance started to show around mile 11/12 as my legs started to fail me at the current pace and my heart race increased. I had made it a point to only check my watch every couple miles and not obsess about the pace like I usually would.
Finally, we had the uphill finish back into Centennial Olympic Park. I grabbed chocolate milk, a banana, and what I could before grabbing my jacket and phone from bag check and shuffling back to the hotel. I managed to trip over the sidewalk 3 times on the ten-minute walk, so I was in somewhat rough shape.
Overall, I wasn’t overly pleased with my time of 2:05:09 but I was happy with my performance overall. I feel like the negative split showed grit since the course didn’t flatten out much in the later miles. I think my current fitness that week could have gotten a sub-2 (but not a PR) on a flat course, which is cool since I’ve only done that twice. This performance bodes well for Brooklyn Half as long as I don’t let my long runs slip. I also got a few actually flattering race photos for the first time in a long time because when you take it easier, you can try to actually smile for the cameras. Plus the trip itself was amazing and something I’ll hold dear for a long time.