Thursday, November 28, 2013

Day 2,523: Atlanta Half Marathon

              23 degrees at race start for my 23rd 1/2 marathon!

I'm from Chicago originally so I guess I shouldn't be a stranger to cold weather. But race day turned out to be the coldest in more than a century.

I ran a 5K in early December in Chicago when it was 17 degrees and it snowed another time in Downers Grove.

But this really was the coldest race I've run in Atlanta! Luckily I did my research (it helps keeping temperature information and what I've worn in this blog) and came up with the right gear for the race.

It turned out, though, getting there was the problem. Last year, they charged $5 for parking in the Turner Field lots. I complained about it in this blog and I'm sure other people did, too, because this year the parking was free.

Only it was a "be careful for what you wish" moment. I pulled up to Turner Field with a half-hour to spare, easily more than enough time. The traffic near the Olympic Torch was bumper-to-bumper but I had confidence I'd get into the lot.

The minutes creeped by and people started bailing out of their cars. When we got in view of the Blue Lot, it looked like it was full and traffic in my direction was unable to get in.

So I got in the other lane and made my way south behind Turner Field. It turned out the reason for the traffic backup was a carnival was taking up the entire silver lot! Just like that a big chunk of what would have been available parking gone.

At this point, I hoped to just find street parking but it was really unclear whether street parking was permitted ... and whether my car would not be broken into by the time I got back.

I found myself also on one-way streets. I must have gotten pretty far from the park. It was about five minutes before race start. I told myself though that I didn't have to be there by then, I could just slip into another corral and the B-TAG chip timing system would record my time.

I turned down another street ... and luckily this was the back entrance to the Gold lot. I turned in it and could not believe my eyes -- there were spaces aplenty here! I parked quickly and ditched my gloves and hat in the car.

I climbed over the barrier fence to my corral. It was 7:32 -- the corral start time was in three minutes.

So the race started and all I could think about was just taking it easy -- one year when a former colleague was running it for the first time I told her to just take it easy until Piedmont Park, after which the really hard hills come.

So that's what I did. I enjoyed the run and noted its more interesting moments, such as having to be careful for ice on the road (the volunteers did a great job of coning it off and alerting people) and at the water stations, as water and powerade became road slicks on the ground after runners dropped their paper cups.

When we entered Piedmont Park, it was really uplifting for me, since it felt like I was on my home course.

Taking it easy on the hills seemed to give me more in reserve for the rest of the race. The only thing was I really wasn't running all that fast, not that it really mattered. It looked like I would end up with a finish time of over two hours for the first time since 2009. I really tried to keep up with two women who wore the "2:00 pace team" bibs on their backs.

But well into Mile 11, something happened. I started to get warm -- I took off my windbreaker and put it around my waist. I rolled up my sleeves and started to run.

I had two miles left and felt very fresh. It was going to be like running a 5K to the finish! In years past, I've paid the price for burning my glycogen early. Even the flat spots up to the state capitol seemed very tiring.

After we crested the I-20 overpass, I was in full swing. I kept behind one dude for a while and then passed him. No one outkicked me to the finish, which I did in under 2 hours with seconds to spare.

I've run faster races before but this one felt memorable because of its difficulty and the likelihood I would have finished over two hours. It also pushed me past 1,000 miles for the year.

Time: 7:35 a.m.
Temp: 23 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, long-sleeved x2 (Big Peach 5 Miler, 2008 Weather Channel Atlanta Half Marathon), shorts, running pants, Columbia sportswear Portland Shamrock run fleece vest, Nike windbreaker, Nike Air Pegasus+ 30.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Day 2,522: Thanksgiving Half Marathon Expo (or how chance hooked me into signing up for the 2014 Publix Georgia Half Marathon)

Blame it on chance ... and a GU.

I came to this year's Atlanta Track Club Thanksgiving Half Marathon expo with the thought that I'd buy a GU, also known as an energy gel. I usually take one of those at Mile 9 of a half-marathon. (They will usually give you them along the course but I usually rotate older ones first).

But I didn't have cash on me and I thought it would be silly to put $1.50 on a card.

All that concern seemed to disappear when it dawned on me that I could get one ... by chance.

The booth for the Publix Georgia Marathon and Half-Marathon had a "plinko" board. Basically it's a board with pegs and you drop a chip down the top of it and the chip will meander its way past the pegs to the bottom, where you win a prize. The prizes included free T-shirts ... and a GU.

It was so easy the family in front of me got one ... and they didn't even know what a GU was.

So I signed up for a chance to play plinko. I tried to use a strategy where the chip would fall its way down to GU.

But it fell on $5 off a race entry. Add that to the $10 discount the expo booth offered and a half-marathon entry could be had for $65.

Uh, oh. The Publix Georgia Half Marathon easily is one of my all-time favorite race courses, since it winds through Atlanta's iconic neighborhoods in a way that really no other local race does.

Since I've lived here, the hilly course also is a true gauge of my fitness. I've completed it four times and did the full marathon once.

Yet in March I didn't run in it even though I was signed up for it, because I didn't feel like I was fit enough to enjoy it. We went to Jekyll Island instead, and had a great time.

Reluctantly I filled out the registration form and gave them my card. They gave me a lime green technical T-shirt that proclaims that I am in training for the 2014 race.
And so it begins again, in four months.

Time: 11:19 a.m.
Temp: 36 degrees
Gear: short sleeve T-shirt, shorts, Mountain Hardwear running pants, Columbia sportswear fleece vest, Nike windbreaker, Adidas running shoes.