Race Report: best laid plans

It’s been two weeks and I’m still processing this one. That by itself isn’t unusual: any event you spend months and months planning and preparing for–weddings, holidays, travel, moving, and so forth–is going to have a protracted reflection period, given how fast the event itself plays out relative to the time spent getting ready for it.

Granted, no one could possibly construe a full marathon as objectively “brief”, but in the broader context of having been training in some form since late May of this year, it certainly feels like it went by in a flash.

No, the unusual part comes from a confluence of two things. The first is that I haven’t run a marathon since April 2015, so in a very real sense, this was a brand-new experience for me. It reminded me of how, after spending most of 2015-2016 sidelined by an injury, I effectively spent 2017 learning how to run all over again.

The second part is how marathons are fundamentally different from (apologies for hand-waviness here) “most other” runs. One of the reasons I love running so much is that unlike so many other things in life, when you have a bad run one day, you can always go out the next day and try again (all other things equal). Not so with the marathon: unless you’re one of the 0.000001% who run ultras regularly or full marathons every weekend, you’re wrecked after a full marathon. You need a week, maybe more, just to be able to run a couple miles again, to say nothing of a full 26.2. So if you have a bad day, you’ll have to wait upwards of 3-4 months minimum–more like 6-12 months for us mere mortals–before you can take another crack at it.

So after said week of sleeping in every morning, eating whatever I want, and generally being dead to world–side note, man I could get used to this–followed by a week of slowly getting back into the swing of things, I’m still going through this in my head. BUT! I figure it’s time I took a shot at putting my thoughts on paper. Or blog-aper. Screen-aper? Scraper?

blogging-meme1

Anywho.

Friday, November 8

First thing in the morning, Laura and I ran 20 easy minutes, coming out to 2 miles and change. After that, we split up and got ready to leave–The Lady and I were driving up as soon as we possibly could, while Laura and Renee were leaving later in the morning. It was a ~3 hour drive to our place in Chattanooga, and The Lady took charge driving the whole way there. I think I napped somewhere in there.

What can I say? The mountains are soothing.

IMG_9975

Along the way, we stopped at a Panera for lunch in what has become something of an unofficially-official day-before-a-race lunch tradition for us. The Lady got a delicious-looking salad and soup, and I got my 100% carb-free mainstay: a breadbowl of soup with a baguette side.

IMG_20191108_114649
Like Toby, I’m smiling on the inside.

We got to the house in Chattanooga around 1pm, well ahead of schedule: packet pick-up at the race expo didn’t begin until 4pm, and Laura and Renee wouldn’t arrive until 3. So The Lady and I scoped out the place: it was a house that belonged to a friend of ours from Athens and his wife, who were both traveling that weekend and had graciously offered to let us stay there… on the condition that we dog-sit.

Because, y’know, that was such a chore [sarcasm].

SUCH a sweetheart.

I ended up passing out for about another hour, waking up to the sound of Renee and Laura arriving. Renee didn’t stick around too long–she was just in town to visit her grandparents (though she would swing by the race to cheer us on)–at which point the remaining three of us decided to hit up the expo and then get some dinner.

IMG_20191108_165349
My first marathon in 4.5 years, and Laura’s first marathon ever!

On the note of dinner: for some reason, I didn’t mention this in last year’s Chickamauga half race report, but that year we’d discovered this literal hole-in-the-wall restaurant tucked away in a residential area called Aretha Frankenstein’s. It was amazing, and after our solid performances at last year’s half, we’d been set on heading there again for pre-race dinner. I do remember barely managing to scarf down their full stack of pancakes the year before, but given I was running literally twice as far this time, I decided to get the same thing. I swear those pancakes are like three-quarters inches thick, each.

I didn’t end up sleeping terribly well that night, but I blame it more on the bed than pre-race jitters–it was a double o_O

Saturday, November 9

RACE DAY WOOOOOOOOO

IMG_9980

So, in a discussion with my coach a couple weeks before, we’d set up my goals for the race.

  • A-goal: I’m feeling fantastic. The race environment is like pure adrenaline in my veins. Weather is cooperating. Stars have aligned. Let’s go for sub-4 hours.
  • B-goal: Feeling good, feeling strong. Going to be a slog but I’ll get there. Let’s go for sub-4:10.
  • C-goal: Something’s a little off today, whether it’s me or the weather. Can’t soak in the event as much as I’d like, so let’s focus on finishing strong and shoot for sub-4:17 (essentially, a PR for me).

Ambitious, yes. But seemed do-able.

It was cold: 28F, and [as I would only learn after the race] 90% humidity. I felt good, though definitely nervous. I’m always wondering in these last moments if there was something I forgot to do or should have done more/less of, even though that’s literally the most useless moment to consider such things–what would I be able to do about it if I thought of something?

Laura and I got in our warm-ups, and before I felt ready, it was 7:30–race time!

Our original plan to stick with the 4-hour pace group for the first half went out the window before the race even began: there was no 4-hour pace group! Nor was there a 4:15 group, for that matter. The only groups we could find were 3:30 and 3:45 (lol nope), followed by 4:30. So we shrugged and found the 2-hour half marathon pace group, knowing full well we’d part ways a mere three miles in. But at least it’d keep us from going out too fast?

The Howitzer–or whatever antebellum metal-flinger passed for one a few hundred years ago–roared, and we were off!

The course went pretty much as I remembered it, with one small!big wrinkle: a 2-mile out-and-back a mere three miles into the race (yep, the split-off point between the half and full). After nailing the first three miles, we parted from the 2-hour half group and the course got noticeably sparser.

BUT! We were in for the surprise of our lives when, on the out-and-back portion, who should we see cheering us on, but none other than our training partner Renee (who’d run NY the weekend before)?!

IMG_0768
Renee got this great shot of us on the “out” portion of the out-and-back.

It was so unexpected–we had no idea Renee would be at the race! So it was a fantastic surprise and boost.

We whipped around, waved hello again as we passed, and then caught up to The Lady around mile 5! She’d staked out her first cheer position at a major convergence point that made it easy for her to get to the next part of the course. A great cheer squad for the first bit of the race.

IMG_20191109_092440
The Lady snapped this one as we went by around mile 5.

9:06, 9:10, 8:54 (oops), 9:01, 9:05

We were pretty much dead-on. I felt strong as we started in on the hillier parts of the course. Much like this point of last year’s half, I was eager to start chewing up some elevation.

0074

The next few miles of the course were a lot quieter–we were in the heart of the park, shrouded in tree cover. There were only a few places that could easily be accessed by spectators (thankfully the aid stations were well-placed). Laura and I kept each other company, but were mostly quiet and soaking in the thrills of the race.

8:58, 9:04, 9:09, 9:03, 8:59

Right around mile 11 was the first wobble, but it was entirely mental. As we passed the major cheering section–the course briefly turns onto a major road where there’s usually quite a bit of stopped traffic and spectators–I got a little too deep into my head and panicked.

My thoughts started racing; it was only mile 11?! I had more than half of the race left to go?! I felt my adrenaline surging as the anxiety rippled through my chest and arms. I felt like I had a weight on my chest. For whatever reason, I fell out of “lizard mode” and had a really difficult time clicking back into things, in spite of a brand-new, kickass 26.2 playlist.

Right around where I thought I was settling back in, I felt a shift in my legs and lungs: the former felt heavy, and the latter felt strained. This was definitely physical, not just mental. By mile 15, I told Laura that something felt off, and that I was going to ease up on the gas just a little and hope that my body rebooted after another couple of miles.

9:02, 9:07, 9:02, 9:01, 9:23 (uh oh)

That didn’t happen. Instead, shit hit the proverbial fan. To borrow another meme: things escalated quickly.

By mile 18, my legs were throwing cramps and I’d started to intersperse some walking time, both to let my legs relax and to give my lungs a chance to recover. I also felt really thirsty and was chugging 2-4 cups of water at every aid station I passed. It was unexpected, because I didn’t feel like I was overheating or had otherwise entered the race dehydrated, but holy cow I was parched now.

9:42, 10:44, 10:16, 10:35, 11:39

By mile 21, I could no longer run for more than a tenth of a mile at a time. I made the mistake of trying to run-shuffle to see if my legs would just relax, but instead my left leg went completely rigid: calves, quads, and hamstrings all locked up in unison. I could barely even walk, much less run.

Suffice to say, my mental game imploded, too. And it was the perfect environment: by this stage of the race, there were practically no one else in sight. I was on the second loop of the half marathon course, so there were no more half marathoners; marathoners were few and far between, and the spectators–already a sparse crowd–had thinned considerably.

What I couldn’t figure out was why I was crashing so hard. I’d done a full 20-mile training run on tired legs just four weeks prior and felt strong, and now I couldn’t even make it 18 after a two-week taper before having to take walk breaks. I’d trained through a brutal summer and was now running the coldest Chickamauga of any of the previous ones I’d participated in. What was going on?!

There were a lot of four-letter words. Though The Lady’s cheering never wavered (and I can’t thank her enough for that, even if I looked miserable in the moment; it made all the difference in the world).

The worst part in all this was the knowledge that, unable to run at mile 21, I had another 5 miles to go. I couldn’t fathom how. In those moments, if a sag wagon had come by, I probably would have jumped on it in an eyeblink.

Miles 21-24 were pretty dark.

13:46, 13:30, 13:43, 14:41

A couple of course guides on bicycles went by and asked if I was doing ok. Not thinking it made a difference (or, more succinctly, just not thinking by this point), I said I was fine except for needing water. I don’t know how, but the guy materialized a bottle of water from thin air. I gulped it down in pretty much one swig and immediately felt a little better, but also even more confused; it was becoming clearer that I was severely dehydrated, but how that had happened I still couldn’t begin to imagine.

As I had a lot of time on my hands, I mentally went through the week before the race. I’d been drinking my usual 25oz water bottle at work (x4 daily, theoretical baseline of 100oz water / day). I had noticed that I didn’t seem to be making more bathroom trips than usual, but given how the temperatures had fallen it didn’t strike me as something I needed to worry about.

I also didn’t feel like I was overheating: running tights, gloves, ear band, and a double upper layer (thin long sleeves underneath, thicker cold gear over that) seemed appropriate for a 28F starting temperature. But I also sweat [a lot!] more than your average runner; perhaps I really should have been aiming for more frequent bathroom trips the week before the race, even with the colder temperatures in the forecast.

The last thought I had was to notice that my current predicament really and truly wasn’t mental. It wasn’t a panic-induced breakdown, my racing thoughts at mile 11 notwithstanding. No, this was physical incapacitation: I literally could not have willed myself into getting back on A-goal or even C-goal pace. I was barely managing walking; it was clear that something had gone badly wrong and my race was done, whether I was prepared to accept it or not.

14:44

Let’s just say that, at mile 25 of a marathon, the logic circuits of your brain aren’t exactly firing. Put another way: there were a lot more four-letter words.

A small positive shift occurred here: I found that–after pushing myself only as hard as my body would permit without initiating full-scale lockdown, and taking plenty of fluids at each passing aid station–I was, very slowly, getting more usage out of my legs. Running for slightly longer distances before walking. Walking a little faster without cramping. Nothing impressive or transformative, but nonetheless noticeable–and lending further credence to the theory that this was all a case of severe dehydration.

12:30

By now I was back to the treacherous stone-riddled trail; I’d caught up to a woman who was also walk-running, and we briefly swapped war stories of which muscles were cramping and how often. I was able to maintain a 10-11 minute mile pace without dire pushback from my legs, so I settled in as best I could and just enjoyed the feeling of running again, however slow going it was.

While I knew I was closing in on the finish, I also knew the steady grade of the park trails would be yielding to the small but rapid course corrections of the neighborhoods we were entering. I tried to shut it all out and focus on running the last bit of the race and crossing the finish line strong.

It’s always a delicate balance: pushing with everything you’ve got left, and praying to whatever deity that your calf doesn’t seize and cause you to faceplant mere yards from the finish line.

4:36:20 official chip time

I was wrecked. I had that catch in my breathing, where if I sucked in too deep a breath, I’d go into nigh-uncontrollable coughing fits. My legs were shot to hell and threatening to seize at any second, and my chest still felt like it had a 20-pound weight sitting on it.

The Lady tracked me down shortly after I’d entered the food tent (she’d threatened to shove food down my throat if I didn’t eat something–anything–after the race) and gave me one of the biggest hugs ever, offering her unconditional congratulations and unwavering support, all without asking “what happened” or “are you ok” or anything like that. They’re honest and well-meaning questions, but as a marathoner herself (and a far better one than I could ever hope to be!) she knows that race plans going awry mid-event is the rule, not the exception. I’d fill her in on the race later, but all I wanted–needed–in that moment was support, and she had it in spades.

We met up with Laura–who, in her first-ever full marathon, had finished in 4:12 and placed in her age group!–and tried to get as comfortable as we could for the very uncomfortable process of forcing food down our pie holes.

IMG_20191109_121653
Everything tastes like chalk dipped in skim milk after a marathon. Even pizza. Even oreos.

At length, we discussed our races. Laura, having taken off at my insistence around mile 15, had slowed down a little over the next five miles, hitting an average pace of maybe about 9:10, before slowing down further for the last 10K. Nothing like my implosion, though: she did incredibly well, averaging about a 10:30 pace for the final stretch with a couple of walk breaks but overall an extremely strong finish. She crossed at 4:12, faster than any of the now-four marathons I’ve run!

I went into my dehydration theory, and The Lady more or less confirmed it by informing me (then for the first time) that the humidity at the start of the race had been sky-high. I also noticed I had precipitated salt all over my face, which was a dead giveaway that I hadn’t been drinking enough fluids.

Renee (and her daughters!) came by to congratulate us both before departing to drop her kids off with her extended family in Chattanooga. We made plans to meet up for dinner at one of our favorite Chattanooga haunts, then headed back to our “airbnb” to get cleaned up and NAP.

The next day, on the way out from Chattanooga, we stopped by Sky Valley, GA to have lunch with our friend Kim from Pittsburgh who was in town for the Sky to Summit trail ultra. The four of us caught up, ate great food, enjoyed some donuts afterwards, and had a lovely time before parting ways to head home. I caught up with my coach over the phone and filled her in on all the details. She also congratulated me on finishing, and we made plans to reconnect after I’d taken some well-earned rest and recovery time (she made me promise I wouldn’t do ANYTHING that first week… it was pretty awesome not doing anything, to underscore that yet again).

Epilogue

I’ve had this theory ever since Marine Corps in 2013: my standing marathon PR of 4:17 is a “soft” PR. I’ve run 5K races in just over 20 minutes, 10K races in just over 42, and half marathons in 1:41. A sub-4 hour marathon, in theory, should be well within the realm of possible. Even a 3:45 feels like it would be within reach after getting some more experience with the distance.

This past training cycle certainly had its ups and downs. It would have been silly to expect a flawless marathon training regimen after so long since my last full marathon; hiccups were inevitable, and in retrospect should have been expected (I suspect my coach built redundancy into the training plan from the start with this exact contingency in mind). Indeed, I missed a full week early in the training cycle, and one of my two 20-milers in October. Even so, over the “official” training period starting July 29, I churned out 530.61 miles over 84 runs, crushing over 18,500 ft of elevation and burning over 76,000 calories. Adding in the post-Ireland summer months increases the mileage by another 258.

That’s almost 800 miles in just over 5 months. Pretty solid by any definition.

So you’d think, given my propensity for self-flagellation and minimization of accomplishments, that I would be in a tizzy over this. How, given my training, did I crash so badly at Chickamauga? How, after one of my best 20-mile performances during a record-setting summer heat wave, did I put in a new personal worst by almost 20 minutes?

Weirdly, I think the margin by which I set the new personal worst has a lot to do with how rapidly I’ve come to accept what happened. If, by contrast, I’d missed my C-goal by 1 minute–finished at 4:18, say–I’d probably be furious with myself. Instead, by missing my C-goal by such a spectacularly wide degree, it made the facts all the more irrefutable: something outside my control went south in a hurry, and there was nothing I could have done about it.

I mean, clearly, I could have hydrated better the week before the race. But by the time I stepped up to the starting line, the writing was on the wall: it wasn’t going to be my day. No amount of four-letter wording–irrespective of volume–would change that.

The marathon is a beast. It’s unlike any of the other distances I’ve raced. Which is precisely why I knew, barely a full day after crossing the finish line 20 minutes later than any previous race, that I wanted to take another crack at the beast.

I don’t know when. I’ve barely even begun to get my legs back under me–runs last week felt good, until they didn’t, and I felt like I backslid a bit. This week they’ve been feeling good again, and I’ve been building more slowly, hoping to establish a rhythm again. Cross-training is going to be key: that fell off to literally 0 in the last two months of training, and while I don’t think that was THE reason for my performance, it certainly didn’t help anything. I also need to up my daily water intake to 125oz (5x water bottles) to be absolutely certain I’m sufficiently hydrated for these humid runs.

I’ll also need my coach’s help again. Self-training is great when you can manage it, and for shorter distances it certainly served us well over the years. But if I’m going to tame this beast, it’s going to take far more experienced people than me. To say Caitlin has been an incredible coach would be an understatement; she helped me reframe my mindset around running and rediscover how much fun it could be, even during those inevitable Mile 21s.

I also could never do it again without training partners. The Lady was and always will be my best and favorite training buddy, but the more the merrier. For the physical distances and mental grinds of the marathon, I’ve learned I’m someone who really needs the company. I do enjoy my solo runs, but for anything over about 12 miles, there’s just no substitute for someone with whom you can commiserate. So I’ll have to convince The Lady or Renee or Laura to run another one again.

But I definitely want to do it again.

IMG_20191110_134746

Race Report: Chickamauga Battlefield Half Marathon

Background

So, there’s been an interesting trajectory in the last while that’s probably been evident in some form or another on this blog for the past couple years, but which has really been thrown into relief in 2018:

my half marathons have been getting faster.

  • In 2014, I ran 4 half marathons, 1 over 1:50 (1 was my still-standing half PR).
  • In 2015, I ran 4 half marathons, 2 over 1:50.
  • In 2016, I ran 3 half marathons, 2 over 1:50.
  • In 2017, I ran 3 half marathons, 1 over 1:50.
  • In 2018, I’ve run 4 half marathons, 0 over 1:50.

I even made a graph:

Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 12.07.50 PM
Y-axis is in minutes. That second data point in mid-ish 2014 is my PR (1:41:07).

This has been particularly exciting in the past year, as I’ve noticed my times trending downward. Coming off an unexpectedly strong performance at AthHalf this past October, I felt something I truly hadn’t felt in awhile:

Confidence.

The AthHalf route was new; its final 5K was a particularly challenging route. Nevertheless, I still set an “event” PR of 1:47–the fastest AthHalf time I’d run in four straight years of the event (and three different routes; hence, “event” PR). Given how challenging the route was, and how happy I was with my performance, I felt like with another 3-4 weeks of training before Chickamauga, I could make a run at the 1:45:08 time I set at the Georgia Publix Half Marathon waaaaay back in March 2015, the fastest half marathon I’d run since moving to Athens. I came close at this past April’s Eugene Half Marathon, but my goal then had simply been to see The Lady to an 8-flat average over the first 10 miles (even that had made me worry at the time, so the fact that I came within 45 seconds overall of that average was extremely impressive).

I took a risk and set for myself what felt like an ambitious goal: set a new best half time for myself since moving to Athens.

At the same time, The Lady and I were discussing another interesting trend. For the past few years, our respective training regimens had diverged as she focused more on chasing a BQ: training for and racing full marathons. Given how my half marathon times ballooned over 2015 and 2016, it’s not like I could have kept up with her anyway, but suffice to say she widened her existing margin of victory with the household half marathon PR, netting a time under 1:40 and all but guaranteeing I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her except for the shortest races (I still hold the 5K and 10K family PRs, but only just).

But in the last year, things shifted. The Lady started pursuing non-marathon training again, and I continued healthy running trends from 2017 and into 2018. Consequently, we realized for Chickamauga: for the first time in years, it was a bit of a toss-up as to who might be able to run a faster time.

So, we did what any friendly but competitive couple would do: we made a contest out of it.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority went with The Lady. I certainly don’t blame them; I did, too! And when I say “vast”, I mean it: easily 90% or more of our friends went with her. There was one person who voted for me “out of pity,” and another because I beat them out in the final stretch of a 5K back in the summer. That was about it.

The half marathon is always a bit scary, especially when you’re not entirely sure what you’re capable of going in; adding a little element of competition can help shift your focus away from the unknown and to something a bit friendlier. Plus, by virtue of the aforementioned training divergence, it’d been a rare treat when The Lady and I could race together: the 10 miles at the Eugene Half was a welcome, but highly unusual, occurrence. So further underscoring the fact that we’d get to run together was really nice.

Race day

This year, we elected to stay in a hotel in Chattanooga. It meant a bit of a drive the morning of, about 30 minutes, but we had a much better list of options for hotels.

In the day or two leading up to race weekend, winds were blowing in a cold front. On race morning, it was cold: 33 degrees (before wind chill), with 10+ mph winds. Historically, race morning has been cold, but not that cold (36-39F) and not windy, so this broke with precedent. Furthermore, the course itself was slightly different at the start due to some construction in the associated state park.

Suffice to say, we bundled up.

Photo Nov 10, 07 26 22
At the starting line (rocking Fleet Feet Racing Team uniforms).

Packet pick-up was a bit chaotic, but otherwise things went as we’ve been accustomed to (having run this event in 2015 and 2017): that is to say, smoothly.

Our plan at the starting line, more or less, was: start off between the 1:50 and 1:45 pace groups, and kinda take it from there. Admittedly ambiguous, but we were both operating from a position of unknown but ambitious. To that end, we both decided to completely ignore our watches through the entire race, going wholly by feel instead of by time.

We wished each other good luck, and soon enough, we were off!

The first couple of miles I remembered pretty well from previous years, including the janky/rocky “trail” that preceded the actual paved pathways through the state park. We spent those miles trading leads: The Lady would slowly pull ahead, then I’d reel her in and pass her, and so on with the yo-yo style. My surges were mostly due to feeling boxed-in by other runners (the first few miles of a big race are always cramped), but then she would catch up and pass me on downhills (I suck at downhills).

8:02, 7:56

We were keeping in pretty close range of the 1:45 group, which ended up being a bit of a mistake: 1:45 was, for both of us, our reach times, so sticking with them from the very start felt a bit like pushing our luck. Especially since we weren’t checking our watches (mine was entirely under my long sleeves, so I couldn’t just glance at it), having a pace group right in front of us would most likely pull us along.

Which it did: while I obviously couldn’t double-check the time, we were way too close to the 1:45 pace group (maybe 5 seconds behind) by mile 3, so I made a concerted effort to pull up in mile 4.

7:47 (oops), 7:56

This was where, I admit, an unfair advantage kicked in for me: prior knowledge. As I previously stated, we’d attended this event previously in both 2015 and 2017. Both those years I ran the half, so this was my third time running the half. The Lady, on the other hand, ran the full in 2015, and while she had been registered for the half in 2017, ended up DNS due to a head cold. While the full marathon runs the half course twice, 3 years was a pretty long gap to retain any knowledge of the course to the point of integrating it into one’s race strategy.

To be fair, it’s not like I planned ahead, but at mile 5 when the hills began, I suddenly remembered: oh right, the next FOUR MILES are rolling hills. My strength has always been uphills; The Lady, downhills. So I figured, if I could push these next four miles pretty hard, I might be able to build an insurmountable lead before the downhills kicked in.

Conveniently enough, Immigrant Song kicked in right at that point on my playlist. So I went with it.

7:46, 7:37, 8:00, 7:53, 7:41

(that 8:00 was due to a totally unexpected water stop that caught me off guard, so I came to a full stop to fuel)

I left the 1:45 pace group behind on the first hills. The further I went the more the hills came back to me, so I kept pushing in time with the awesome mid-race music on my list (great job, Past Me, setting up that list!). I high-fived The Lady at the weird hairpin loop a little after mile 6, but otherwise just kept pushing as much as I could without feeling like I was in danger of flaming out.

636778845452201332
Pretty sweet shot.

It was a tricky balance: I was truly testing my limits, taking a risk where a very real possibility was utterly blowing up and walking it in. But man it felt good just to be in that position again!

7:58

For those who ignore their watches entirely (this course also didn’t have any clocks along it, so beyond the relative locations of pace groups I truly had no idea what time I was hitting), breathing is the key to semi-accurately assessing one’s performance. Up until now, I used my steady breathing to help quiet my anxiety about the pace I was pushing and convince myself I was doing ok. At this point, though, my breathing definitely changed: I was getting tired, and I felt like I was slowing down.

8:05, 8:05

Which I was. But at least I was consistent 😛

There was one brief moment of panic somewhere around here, where I heard feet and voices gaining on me from behind. I resisted the urge to look behind me (DON’T SHOW WEAKNESS), but was worried I was slowing down so much that the 1:45 group was gaining on me. Very quickly, however–far faster than I would have expected for a 1:45 pace group–I was passed by a group of very fast-looking guys. Not the pace group, but perhaps an early group of marathoners? Or late-starters? Wasn’t sure.

Good story.

8:11

This was that janky/rocky “trail” again, heading back to the starting area. There’s a rough up-down-up dip in the trail that I don’t even remember from the way out, but that’s probably because I wasn’t nearly this tired.

Once I crested the loop around mile 13, I tried to put what I had left into the final stretch–managed an average 6:56 pace.

Chip time: 1:44:33

0089

I’d definitely ceded some ground to the 1:45 pace group, but The Lady came in behind me barely 1 minute later! She definitely made up some ground on the downhills as expected (she’s really, really good at those).

After finishing, we made a beeline for our car and changed out of our racing clothes and into new, dry clothes–the wind was still in the double-digits, and while we weren’t planning to stick around for very long, we didn’t want to freeze before we could grab some food.

In doing so, we were able to catch the print-outs of preliminary half marathon results, and in a very pleasant development, The Lady got 3rd in her age group! Not surprisingly, I was 6th; I would have needed to knock off another 2-3 minutes to get 5th, and almost 10 minutes to crack the top 3. Still a ways to go 😛

Photo Nov 10, 09 48 57
Celebrating at the finish! (and after changing into dry clothes)

Post-race

Before freezing solid, we headed back to the hotel to clean up. We debated hanging around Chattanooga, perhaps checking out the aquarium (which was literally across the street from our hotel), but decided that our legs were pretty beat up from the effort. We settled instead on walking about 0.75 miles to the nearest Starbucks, getting celebratory mochas, and heading home.

The ride home was full of chatter about the race. Honestly I have to keep reminding myself that I technically won our little competition, because the whole thing was such a blast (and because, realistically, it’s only a matter of time before The Lady surpasses me in the half again). We both did so freaking well! 

We discussed how the summer had been such a whirlwind that largely set us back in our running. The first few months of the fall, August and September in particular, had hit the ground running so hard it’d been a massive undertaking to land as much mileage as we had. Despite all of this, we’d managed to build a solid base of consistent weekly mileage in the low-30s. Even though this only occasionally included tempo runs or track workouts, the consistent mileage by itself was both a huge factor and an amazing accomplishment by itself.

Given our collective performance at Chickamauga–at the upper end of both our expectations–we’re now thinking it may be time to bring the professionals back into the mix. We’ve had good experiences with coaches, and with the mileage base we’ve built, the next important steps will be 1) very structured running schedules, and 2) regular quality workouts.

In the meantime, we have some pretty fun races coming up: the Give Thanks 8K on Thanksgiving morning, the Helen Holiday [Trail] Half in mid-December, and an officially-unofficial Beer Mile, also in mid-December.

But after that… we shall see.