Four AM Thanksgiving morning my alarm clock goes off. I meander out of bed and start to prepare for the day ahead. My day does not immediately start with Turkey and all the fixings. Instead the day starts with a long thirteen mile run through downtown Atlanta, better known as a half marathon. Like so many other things I have done this year, another first. Of course this first is a huge milestone for runners and I know it will be a great final conclusion to an amazing year of inagural athleticism and numerous ‘firsts’.
After getting dressed and eating my breakfast I go out to the car and I am shocked to feel how cold the air is outside. Atlanta usually is in the comfortable mid forties and fifties at this time of the year, holding off getting colder til later in the season. Instead, this morning Atlanta’s temperatures has dipped down to a century low Thanksgiving day temperature of twenty two degrees. In my running clothes I can feel every bit of the freezing cold through my smart fabric clothing. I decide instead to put on a pullover I use for backpacking, a pair of gloves and adjust my clothing accordingly.
By seven thirty I am lined up in my corral. The temperature has warmed up two degrees and 11,000 people are huddled together and ready to run… ‘Earn Their Turkey’ as the race slogan claims. I am in the last coral as I predict my final time will be in the three hour plus mark. My last concern is a goal time, I just want to finish, I am ready to start, ready to run.
Just as the race gets ready to get underway people begin to strip off their last minute garments. Looking down the starting shute, the sides of the road are lined with clothing of all types and styles. To give back, race organizers encouraged runners to wear disposable outer layers of clothing that they would collect, wash and donate to the local homeless shelters. For the entirety of the race, clothing could be found all over the streets, as people removed clothing through out the run.
Most people in my coral were extremely nervous. As the slowest and last coral, many of us were new to this distance. Often the two major distances in runnning are the half marathon and the full marathon, 13.1 and 26.2 miles. These distances are the big race distances in running circles, for good reason. Conditioning the body to prepare to run double digit miles is difficult and takes some fortitude. This distance takes time and willpower. Slower runners can require over three hours of running to finish this distance. I am in that boat.
Before this race, my longest run was 10.5 miles. I ran out of time to go further, but I felt great and ready for the additional miles a half marathon would require. I incorporate a similar approach to running as descibed in the Jeff Galloway method and had been running five to one minute walking ratios. Originally my race day strategy involved sticking to this ratio, but after hearing Galloway talk at the expo in his presentation for first timers, I decided to go more concervitive. I figured I would stick with a one to one ratio of running and walking as he recommended doing less in the first five miles.
The change I made to this strategy involved down hills. On the down hills and straght aways I figured I would extend the running portion to take advantage of the easier grading. This meant I treated my intervals more fluidly and could run longer on grades that would be easier to go longer. While I trained with five running minutes to one walking in training, I figured this would leave more energy towards the last three miles and if after an hour I was unable to cover my normal four miles per hour I could switch things up a bit and adjust and adapt.
Mentally I decided I did not want to focus too much on the mileage so I setup a series of sight seeing sight targets the course passed by:
- 2 Miles Centenial Olympic Park
- 4 Miles Atlantic Center Station
- 6 Miles Piedmont Park
- 8 Miles they were handing out Jelly Belly Electrolyte sport beans. I was looking forward to this greatly.
- 10 Miles king center and Oakland Cemtary
- 11 Miles Capital Building for the second time and the return path to the finish line.
- 12-12.5 miles the Olympic rings indicating the final push to the finish line.
In all honesty I still counted down the mileage as I ran, but I focused mostly on just getting to the next major attraction. When that did not work I would focus on getting to the next water stop which were 2 miles apart and stocked with tons of water and powerade.
The corrals before ours moved forward, starting their races and quickly it became my turn to start my race. I have done several races this year, but those races never exceeded a few hundred runners. This race had close to 11,000 runners and has become a local Atlanta tradition. I crossed the timing mat and my 13.1 adventure had started. The race starts out running through the Olympic Rings susspended over the street. This same landmark iconically also marks the conclusion of the 13 mile race.
I began nice and slow, heading toward the downtown capital building and onto Centenial Olympic Park, my first landmark. I made sure to calm down and stick with my run/walk strategy. The first five miles blew by as I hit my pace and rhythm. I pushed for my minute of running up hills and when I hit a few long down hills I just ran til they evened out, often extending my interval time to two to four minutes of running. Heading into mile five this strategy had left me feeling good, the first four miles were done in the first hour. Things were progressing well and the hills up to this point were not too bad as they had nice long down hills following.
Mile six brought me to Piedmont Park, Atlanta’s smaller equivalent to New York City’s Central Park. All the years I have lived in and around Atlanta and I have rarely visited the park, yet alone run through it. I was really looking forward to running through the scenic park and then out to the last seven miles of the run. Running through the park was everything I hoped it would be and was an amazing experience, everything I was hoping for.
The nightmare started for me as soon as we exited the park… the never ending up-hills began. Unlike the first six miles that went uphill and then had long down hills, the second half of this run had long uphills with minor down hill sections that did not last long and ran immediately into uphills. I changed my strategy on this section and began to work through a series of thirty second run/walk sprints and then ran on the downhill sections till the next uphill section started, rarely more than a minute and a half. With this strategy I managed to finish off four more miles and another hour. I was feeling good pretty much except my ankles started to get sore from all the climbing, I pushed on and came first to the Martin Luther King center and eventually to the Oakland Cemetary (historical old cemetary in Atlanta where I worked as an archaeologist several years ago and golf legend Bobby Jones is buried).
Before I knew it the course had come back into Atlanta and the miles had ticked down to about eleven and a half miles completed. I could see the course we ran that morning the would lead me back down the road with the rings and into the finish line ahead. I could also see in the distance Turner Field, the spot where the finish and start line stretched across the street. Suddenly at that moment, I could not move as I was hit with the raw emotion of the day and my season. I began to just let all the emotion go and tears welled up. I knew at that moment, 11.5 miles into my first half marathon, that I would finish. No doubt existed anymore, the day was mine.
I pushed on with my running and walking with an enourmous wide grin on my face. Suddently I crossed mile twelve and turned the corner to the final long hill and road that would lead to the iconic rings and the finish line just beyond. Just had to finish the last big climb, then downhill and 13.1 was mine. I topped the hilll, pushing to keep the emotions down so I coudl finish, so I could run to the finish line. That final mile was an emotional blur. I remember starting the down hill, the rings now overhead and I could see the finish line, could hear the announcer, could see the end of my 13.1 mile journey, the final sight on m y sight seeing run.
I crossed the finish line, got my medal and recovery package and found my mother. I was an emotional wreck as the entirety of my season was realized. A year ago I ran my first 5k race after getting up off the couch, after a life long obsession with food and laziness had come to an end. On this day I had accomplished and amazing achievement, I had ran a half marathon. I felt tired, my ankles and outer knees sore, but I felt charged and excited, felt pumped and enthused. I felt like there was little left in the tank, but emotionally I was drained. I did it I ran 13.1 miles, and I did not feel dead, but enthused.
I found later I completed my first half marathon, 13.1 long miles in 3:13:00. A new PR as this was the first time I ran this distance. As I drove home to go and eat and share a Thanksgiving feast with my wife and her family, I could not help but start thinking of when I would do my next half marathon. I just know this will not be my last as I love this distance. Its hard and ardous, but long enough to be challenging. I loved this race and it was the perfect big last ‘first’ for an amazing inaugural race season full of running, biking and triathlons. Today I earned my turkey, but this year I earned my life. Til next time.
- Time To ‘Earn My Turkey’ (chatterdoesfitness.wordpress.com)
- Double Digits!!!! (chatterdoesfitness.wordpress.com)
- Race reap: Williams Route 66 Marathon, Tulsa (proactiveoutside.wordpress.com)
- Jessica, Christina, & TJ Did It!!! (kimtoslim.com)
- Thirteen Point Freaking One (gemflyspeaks.wordpress.com)
- Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon -Race Recap Part 2 (plaviska1970.wordpress.com)
- The 2013 Salty Running Thanksgiving Roundtable (saltyrunning.com)