Play by Play (Also: Kim Loves Pacers.)
Let’s start by discussing my goal going into this race. It’s only my second road marathon that I was planning on running (I’ve done run/walk marathons, and trail marathons but can’t really compare those), my first one being the Rocket City Marathon last year. I had started that marathon with a 5-hour goal but there was no pacer and I started out too fast (“I Feel So Good! I Can’t believe how fast I’m going!” – SUCH a rookie mistake.) and started having all sorts of issues by mile 15 and it just went downhill from there. I ended up walking most of the last 5 miles. Finished with a 5:18.
So! Obviously the 5-hour goal didn’t go well, but I wasn’t sure why. Was it only because I started out too fast or should I have not even set that pace to begin with?
This time I thought I’d start with a 5:15 pacer. I’d never run with a pacer in any race before and thought it sounded wonderful. I did not want to run alone. I also thought about running with my friends who didn’t have any concrete goals but we are all kinda paced the same. When we got started I realized the 5:15 pacer was doing run/walk intervals. I had no desire to do that because I wanted to be able to run the entire thing without walking other than through aid stops. I decided to try to hover around a 12-minute pace which is what they would be on average of their run/walk breaks. The thing is, I kept settling in closer to 11:30. I’d try to slow down and then look down and then BAM! 11:30 again. By about mile 3 or so I had lost my friends to bathroom stops and was quite far ahead of the 5:15 pacer. It was then that I realized. I WAS ON MY OWN.
I put in my Nerdist podcasts (First: Adam Scott. Second: Tom Hanks Returns.) and just set out trying to stay at a 11:30 pace. The first 10K was GREAT. I think we hit three bridges and the sun was rising and the scenery was great. Then, by about mile 7 or 8 we hit the highway portion which I had been warned about. I knew we’d have about 10 miles of highway running, so I was mentally prepared to zone out and stick with my 11:30 pace.
The 13.1’ers split off at mile 10 which left me with much fewer people around which always makes my head start psyching my body out. I just felt SO SLOW as I was SO ALONE. However, somewhere past there I realized…I CAN SEE THE 5:00 PACER! I did some quick math and thought – If you can speed it up, just a little bit, you can catch up with them. So…I focused for the next few miles on catching that group. I didn’t go much faster than 11:10 probably, maybe a hair faster as I caught up with them. By about mile 13? I was there. Settled in with the 5:00 pacer.
AND IT WAS LIKE BEING IN HEAVEN.
I highly suggest running with a pacer if you can. I no longer had to worry about my pace. I just stuck with her and she gave us reports and told us what was coming and it was GLORIOUS. Eventually it dropped down to just me and this guy Don who’s wife was at about every mile cheering us on. I told him, “I’m just as excited about seeing your wife as you are!” at one point. Once we crossed Thrasher Bridge/Dam (I think that was officially the 5th bridge) around mile 17 we got off the highway back on the riverfront/greenway path and even though it’s concrete it was very pretty so I didn’t mind. (Note to non-runners, the road is MUCH easier of a surface to run on than a sidewalk because asphalt is more forgiving than concrete.)
About mile 22 or so I switched entirely mental. My body was ready to walk. I had to just ignore that and keep pushing with my mind to ignore how tired I was. At that point? I felt like the sub-5:00 goal was so attainable I could taste it. And I wanted it so bad last year, but gave up on it this year. That’s what kept me going. We had some mental challenges around mile 23 and 24 because the mile markers were WAY too early – like 1/2 a mile. That may not seem like a big deal to an outsider but (What’s 1/2 a mile off when you’re running 26.2?) but when you are at the point that you’re counting every step you have left? The course markers teasing you into thinking you’re 1/2 mile closer than you are is just EVIL. Luckily all of our GPS watches read the same so we didn’t fall for it, but it did play some games on us. And we passed a couple who trusted it and were REALLY pissed when mile marker 25 was actually 1.5 away from 24.
By mile 25? I was ready to get done and I knew I needed to leave my pacer to come in under 5:00. With about a mile to go I pushed ahead. Once I got to the last bridge – my Dad’s FAVORITE – Walnut Street Walking Bridge – I turned on “Roar” by Katy Perry on repeat and I hurried home with tears in my eyes. My official chip time was 4:58. I beat my last year’s time by 20 minutes!
I looked at my Garmin data which I rarely do and my slowest mile was mile 25 (12:11) and I think that’s because I stopped at an aid station to fill up my water bottle instead of just chugging water as I moved. I wanted to not have to stop again for anything the rest of the way to the finish. But my FASTEST mile? MILE 26! That’s what you call finishing strong! I did that mile in under 11 minutes. And I kicked in the pace for the last .2 doing that at an 8-minute pace. On average? I kept an average pace of 11:19, so I think at the Rocket City Marathon this year I’ll start out with the 4:55 pacer to see if I can PR again! The elevation profile is close enough that I could equate the two, if anything Rocket City is a tad flatter.
All in all? I’m super proud of my performance.
Final notes about the race and course itself.
- The course wasn’t too hilly in my opinion. The main issue is the “hills” you have to run up to get on the bridges or the highways. So there are quite a few early on, but nothing terrible. And then there’s one short/steep hill at the end that almost caused my quad to cramp up. I was actually cramping for awhile after. But overall? Not bad.
- But the slant got to me. We did so many on and off ramps for bridges/hghways and the road is slanted at those points and that was WAY worse than the hills. I almost wanted to run backwards on a really long one to give my other shin a chance to carry the burden of the slant.
- The aid stations/stops were FANTASTIC. I’ve never seen so much aid before. This is what makes this SUCH a great race. You really don’t have to carry anything if you don’t want! Love it.
- Scenery was GORGEOUS. So beautiful.
- A few of the mile markers were off and that’s a HUGE deal that I really hope they try to avoid next year. In local races someone goes out and marks the mark on the road in chalk with a precise measurement (like a GPS) and then the mile markers stay on that mark on the road. Chattanooga needs to try something like that to make sure they’re accurate.
- GREAT police support on the first half of the race. And for 7+ miles of the last part we’re on greenway so they weren’t erally needed. HOWEVER, they needed some on the last stretch through downtown because I had one intersection I was runnthing trhough to get on the last bridge which is a WALKING bridge, so I wasn’t thinking of cars. Also? I had that finis-line zone going on. But, the last intersection before that bridge wasn’t blocked and cross traffic didn’t have to stop so I was really close to getting run over. They really needed a police officer right there to protect runners.
- My one GIANT complaint is that they needed more markers on the sidewalks on the greenway. There were several turns I almost took but my pacer knew where we were going. The people in Chattanooga probably think it’s obviously where to go, but to me, that road leading to that bathroom looks straight and I don’t know there’s a bathroom over there. They needed to put more markers on the course. I know for a FACT I would have gotten lost otherwise. And I saw several runners saying the same thing.
- All in all? I’d love to do this one EVERY YEAR. Seriously. It’s GREAT.
And honestly? I don’t think I could have done it without my Schwings.