Tuesday, November 13, 2007

2007 Chickamauga Marathon: Race Report

See how I wrote 2007 there in the title?

Well, that is because I plan on doing this one again. And so yeah, maybe I've only done 4 marathons but Chickamauga is my favorite.

Wait, I think this picture about says it all:

That is me seeing the clock and throwing up my arms and cheering for myself. Unfortunately what I don't have a picture of is me, right after I cross the finish line, jumping up and down and punching the air like I just scored a touch down.

I had an amazing race.

No, not that perfect race--at least not in my book-- BUT it was the best race that I have done so far. So much right came together for this race that the only fault I have with it is with myself for not pushing harder. I know I could have. I learned so much from this race about me as a runner. And next time I am putting that knowledge to use.

Wait, here is another finish line picture:

Before I get into all the boring details let me give a quick rundown of the marathon. It is mostly in the Chickamauga Battlefield Park. It is a rolling double loop course. There are hills and depending on where you train you will either find this course extremely difficult or just somewhat challenging. The second loop, though the same as the first, felt infinitely more arduous. In my limited experience I would say this course was similar to ING GA but easier because you don't have the final push, I mean death walk, up Peachtree. But there is a hill at 22 and 24 miles and then it is pretty flat to the finish. The course itself is gorgeous but it does look very similar throughout: wide open grassy fields with deer grazing, marble monuments, civil war markers and cannons. Lots of winding asphalt roads (no cement)and lots of fall foliage. Very very pretty-- the epitome of south east fall scenery.

The race is also small and very intimate. Only 500 people ran it. So you will probably find yourself alone on the course. There is also not a lot of spectators but the ones that are there are very very enthusiastic. There are tons of very well stocked aid stations: water, every flavor of powerade, ibuprofen, bananas, oranges and cliff shot blocks. Porto lets along the course. There was also rolling medics on bikes that patrolled the course. There was a huge after race spread--pizza, cokes, food etc. They even frame the bibs of those doing their first marathon. Honestly I cannot think of a single negative thing to say about this race.

Okay, on to the boring details . . .

Let me begin at the begin.

We--Ryan and I-- drove up to Chattanooga Friday after lunch. Bubbles and Poppy took the kids in their car and Meme and Pat and baby Pat went in their car.

We met up with Poppy and Bubbles and kids at the expo. Poppy was running the 10 mile and he needed to get his number. Kids were collecting as much swag--which wasn't much--as they could get their hands on. Meme and Pat went straight to the cabin on Lookout Mt. that we had rented.

I only mention the expo so I can bring up the shirt. The expo was probably the smallest for a marathon that I have been to. BUT the shirt they gave me was the bestest ever. And here is the secret: Chickamauga Marathon is the deal of the century. I paid $40 for the race and I got an Asiacs technical shirt. In a woman's size. In a good color. With a nice design and a perfect fit. I want to wear this shirt everyday to run in. It is that great.

After the expo we headed to the cabin. Which if you do this race next year--which I think you should (but don't tell too many of your friends)--I highly recommend bringing the family and renting a cabin. Our cabin was about 15 minutes from Chattanooga and 35 minutes from the start--though had we been more map proficient it was only about 20 minutes. Here is a few pictures of home for the weekend:

The family in the backyard (and probably Bubbles's Christmas card photo):

Horses in our backyard:

Fire pit:

Hello! Smores! Is there a better carbo loading food than that?

I went to bed when the kids did. Everyone else stayed up and had a good time. That part sucked, as Lord knows that I do not like to miss a party, but I definitely did not want ride the hangover train.

I didn't sleep well but I didn't expect to. I had "banked" my sleep all week by making sure I got 8-9 hours every night in anticipation of my inevitable fitful race night sleep. Basically I laid down for 7 hours. And since there are periods that I don't remember being awake I have to think that maybe I was asleep then.

I woke up at 10 til 5 am. I got in the shower and took--to my dismay-- an invigorating ice cold shower. Poppy determined that the hot water heater had been turned down. Yay me for being the guinea pig. Not exactly how I wanted to ease into the morning but it certainly woke me up.

Had my usual Uncle Sam's and coffee. Did the debate of what to wear. And Poppy and I headed out around 6:15. We got to the start--which was at a church. We got our timing chips and hung out inside the heated church with clean, well stocked restrooms and coffee and chatted and stretched. At one point Poppy asked me if had something--I don't remember what--but I answered--what don't I have? Everyone within earshot laughed as I had Garmin, ipod, fanny pack with Gu's, phone, mittens, water bottle etc. I was a total girl scout. Even while running someone commented that I might shave 30 seconds off each mile I dropped some of my stuff. But you know, until I get that sponsor and sag wagon I'll just carry my own crap. Better safe than sorry. It may annoy me but it would bother me more not to have it all. I's needs my stuff people. And yeah, those same people who laughed at me sure did like to know what Garmin said pace was.

Around 7:15 I headed to the start after one last potty break. I ran into Gary, who is the brother of a friend from high school. I see him all the time at races and never say anything but decided to be social. He remembered me and said he had just done Marine Corps 2 weeks ago. I did see him on the course and he was about 1/2 mile ahead of me. I saw him at the finish and he said he had to drop out: Achilles issues. I encouraged him to do the Atlanta half at Thanksgiving.

I also ran into Wes! who was running the 10 mile. We chatted and he wished me luck. It is always nice to see friendly faces. People! Come talk to me at races. I'm chatty. I'll talk to anyone.

I noticed that there was a guy with a handmade "3:30 pacer" sign pinned on his back. I asked him if I could try to hang with him and told him that I would fade as my goal was under 3:40 but knew I probably had a 3:30 in me on a magical day. Our conversation was cut short by the race start. Guards in full dress with flags sang the National Anthem. Everyone around me sang. I did not. Not because I am unpatriotic but because I see no need to embarrass myself right off the bat. After some quick directions we all got in our places to prepare for the start. I lined up next to the 3:30 pacer. I pointed out to him that we were front and center and asked if he was planning to bolt out with a sub 6 pace. He said no and we moved a few spaces back and left.

And pop went the gun.

Or maybe someone said go. I have no idea. I just go when everyone else does. Seems the thing to do.

3:30 pacer and I introduced ourselves. His name was Dave. He is an ultra runner and he explained to me his strategy for the race: negative split and walk breaks. He said the first few miles would be 8:10ish and over the course of the race we would push the pace to 7:50. I pointed out to him at the first mile that we were 7:45. We slowed the pace but still remained under an 8 minute pace for the first several miles.

I prattled on nonstop about who knows what. I normally put my head phones on and check out. I have never carried on a conversation for more than a mile in a race. But I chatted, okay I ran on at the mouth for the entire first half of the race. No music. Just chatting. Who knew? It was nice and the race flew by.

In our group was Andrew--he was 16 and it was his first marathon. Joey who was 26 and it was also his first marathon. Then there was Dustin who was also 26 and doing his first marathon. He was always a bit a ahead and I hung with him when Dave and the other 2 did their walk breaks. I had my doubts about the walk breaks.

Note: Garmin had us ahead on the course from about the 2nd mile marker. By the end of the race I had 26.56. Other people commented that their GPS was long too. I think this is probably because the course was curvy and you couldn't take the short arc-- which I assume was how it was measured.

The first half came soon and though I'll have to look but I am pretty certain that the 1:45 split was 1-3 minutes slower than I ran at OBX and GA ING--I think those were 1:43 and 1:42 respectively.

The course was rolling hills but it felt pretty easy, nice and comfortable for the first loop. Though I was apprehensive knowing such would not be the case the second time around. Sometime around mile 14 I decided I would try one of Dave's walk breaks. It was up a hill and only about 15 seconds. This is where the wheels started to come off. As I suspected it was hard for me to get started and get back to the pace. Over the course of the mile I fell further and further back. And even when they took their walk breaks I still couldn't catch back up. So I tucked my head down, turned on my ipod and kept their backs in view. By the 16th mile I looked up and they were gone and I was totally alone on the course. Somewhere around here there was a fork and I was going to go right but just then 2 men came along and passed me. They went left. Whew! Lucky they passed or who knows where I would have ended up. I was totally in lala land and somehow missed seeing the big giant white arrow pointing left until I was on top of it. Der.

I was really feeling sorry for myself and I was hurting. Nothing specific just that general all over achiness. I wanted to quit. But it really wasn't an option since I knew Ryan and the kids were not on the course. I wouldn't see them until the finish. So I just kept plodding forward. My thinking was if I have to finish I am going to keep running--even though it hurts--because walking or stopping is going to make it take that much longer.

Then in the 17th mile going up a hill I got it: the second wind. Totally came out of nowhere. I guess counting down the miles and no longer being in the double digits mentally helped (--or more likely the Gu's kicked in). For some reason saying to myself less than 75 minutes seems totally doable. Or maybe it just took me getting use to that pain. Whatever the case I started to pick up the pace. Around this time running up a hill I came upon Andrew (the 16 year old). He was walking up the hill. I patted him on the back. I gave him a sympathetic look and told him to hang in there, he could do it.

I had been passed a good bit in the 14-17 miles where I had my pity party. But by 18 miles I was beginning to pass some of those same people and also new people. Even though I was feeling better I was being conservative as I counted the miles down. A lot can happen in that last 10k. I was worried mile 22 was going to be my undoing. It usually is. But it never happened. In fact I just kept feeling better and better. Even had a smile on my face.

I hit 22 miles at 3 hours and 2 minutes. I just kept pressing the pace and really started passing people. In fact I don't think anyone passed me at this point. I saw Joey --the 26 year old--in mile 24 and told him to run; that in less than 15 minutes it would be over--10 minute miles I said: you can do it. He shook his head at me but I looked over my shoulder and he had started running. He crossed the finish line shortly after me.

I felt strong until right after I passed the 26 mile marker and then suddenly felt the beginnings of a calf cramp. I seriously thought it would take me out but I choose to ignore it and it never manifested and I was able to sprint the final stretch.

Final time was 3:37:27--almost a 6 minute personal record from the 3:42:43 at OBX exactly one year ago. Even more so it is 31 minutes faster than the 4:08 I ran at the Atlanta full (my first marathon) 2 years ago on Thanksgiving. And it is also nice that I have a another Boston qualifier that once I finally get the funds together I will be eligible to run it.

Icing on the cake came a bit later when I found out that I was first in my age group--8th female over all. That said there was only 15 in my age group and only a hundred or so women. Even still, I am happy with myself. I like that I continue to see improvements in my race times. It is nice that I haven't yet hit that age ceiling.

It was a great race and I think my troubles in the middle miles had partially to do with my body maybe not digesting the GU's very well or me taking that 3rd one too late. I had one at the start, one at 5 miles and then another right before 14 miles. In retrospect I should have had it at 11 miles. I had my last one right at 19 miles and I think that was probably about right. I think my other problem was that I was somewhat unprepared to feel pain so early in the race. Generally I am pretty much pain free til closer to the 20 mile mark. Once I accepted that I could run with pain and that in fact picking up the pace helped, I was able to put the wheels back on and get it done. I am always somewhat conservative about my pace after the first half as I worry I won't have enough gas. But Saturday I felt like by the 20 mile mark I was just hitting my groove again so I sort of feel like I held too much back.

I don't know. On the otherhand, I am thankful for Dave--the pacer-- because he forced me to go out several minutes slower than I had planned. I had thought I would hit the first half at 1:43 and then figured the second half in 1:53-55 or so (never optimistic about a negative split). But then again I could have slowed more--so who knows. The marathon is such a beast for me to pace. But I do think experience is teaching me what I am capable of, what works and what doesn't. Still on that learning curve, I guess.

And so . . . in this post marathon afterglow . . . I am serisouly considering doing the Atlanta full on Thanksgiving. I have until Sunday to decide and register. I keep thinking my sanity will return and I will stick to the do-the-half-on-Thanksgiving plan but the more I think about it the more I want to run the whole thing.

I'll let you know what I decide.

In the meantime go ahead and put Chickamauga Marathon on your calendar for next year.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Rumor is there was a celebrity running. This guy says it is Lance. I don't know. What do you think? I will say I did see that guy --not the blogger-- around the 3rd mile. He was right in front of us and Dave commented on his ugly shoes. And then we started a conversation about running shoes. I didn't really look at the guy but I didn't get that tingly feeling that I would think I would get if I was in the prescence of a 7 time Tour de France winner. You'd just think that I would have some notion about it. And honestly, even if it was Lance I probably would have sprinted after him just to check if maybe he brought Matthew along too. Drool. So. Very. Yummy.


  1. Ms Natalie...YOU are Marvelous!

    What a Great race! Congratulations on your 1st place finish, PR and a new BQ!

    See how your week progresses and how you feel...but I think you can do it.

    You Rock!


  2. Great race report! Sorry but that wasn't Lance. He ran the NYC Marathon on 11/4 in 2:46.

    Contrats on everything. PR, BQ, First place finish, and possibly running in the midst of a celebrity? Awesome Race!

    ...When is the American thanksgiving anyways??

    As always, great race report :o)Thanks for sharing!


  4. Great job!

    Thats not Lance - Too big and us cyclists have a much better fashion sense!

  5. Congratulations on a fantastic race!

  6. CONGRATS ON A PR OF 3:37:27!!!! You just keep getting better and better! Your report makes me wish my next marathon was smaller too, maybe someday.

  7. So, whatya're saying is, that if I ran *my* first marathon next fall, Chicamauga would be better choice than Chi-town??

  8. Charlie: You are the one that is marvelous. I run in your shadow. Still holding out to register. I think I will decide on Saturday.

    Danielle: Thanks. I didn't think it was Lance. It jsut doens't look like him. I know he ran NYC but he is 7 time Tour De France champ. Surely he can do marathons a week apart.;)

    Tiger: you are so generous! Thanks. Thanksgiving is 11/22--so in a week. Soon.

    Wes: Thank you very much and I thought he looked too big. And I forgot about the importance of the outfit-- but you know, since Lance is becoming a runner, maybe he taking the fashion sense a step down. Looks like arunner, dresses like a runner, must be a runner. . .

    Megan: Thanks! How is your running coming along?

    Bruce: Are you ready for Vegas? You do need to get a small marathon in. All the space you have to run is nice. It gets tiring weaving around people.

    Lauren: Chi-town? Is that Chicago? Absoultely *I* think Chickamauga is better choice. Keep in mind that I have never done Chicago but what I have heard about this year sounds like a nightmare. I think the appeal of Chicago is the flat course. But that isn't enough to make me want to do it. I personally don't ever plan on doing Chicago because it means too much training in the Hotlanta summer. Long runs in 90 degreee heat are not fun. Getting up at 4 am just to run in 80 degrees sounds even worse to me. Given where you live a Nov or Dec marathon is a better choice.

    I do think Chickamauga would be a great first marathon experience. But I do prefer smaller races over large ones.

    If you want big I persoanlly think better choices for a first would be Marine Corps or NYC if you can get in the lottery. Marine Corp I hear is flat and is at least at the end of October. NYC I hear the exhubrance of the crowds and the race atmosphere carry you through it. Plus a weekend in NYC shopping? Com'on.
    So just my 2 cents.

  9. The other Wes :-)

    Great race and report, Nat! Congrats on being number one in your age group and 8th over all female. That is awesome!!

    Like Scott, however, I have my fingers in my ears and yellling NAH, NAH, NAH!!! I don't want to hear about pain at mile 16 :-) LOL. I wanna hear how great it was and how the endorphins carried you through to the finish!

    I loved that shirt too, by the way, and I ALMOST bought me one...

    Tell Poppy he was my motiviation at the end of the race. My walk breaks came just as I caught up to him, then I passed him on the final sprint. Star spangled running shorts rock :-)

    See ya at Atlanta (if you do the half).

  10. What? you had a horse in the backyard? you never mentioned that-now I wish I'd gone too. I want to see those turkey cupcakes you made for Beau's class. Lala

  11. You asked, "Are you ready for Vegas?" Almost ready, this Saturday I'll be running a tune-up race, the "27th Annual Turkey Trot 10k Race. After the race I'll have only two weeks left of my taper. Like you, I have many doubts and worries about my upcoming marathon, hopefully my doubts will result like yours...a fantastic PR result!!!

  12. Congratulations on a great marathon, winning your age group, and BQing again! Wow! I hope you get to Boston in '08. You'll get to see the women's olympic marathon trials (which to me will be the highlight of the weekend).

    Anyway, great report and GREAT job!

  13. Hi Nat--I've seen your posts on RWOL and came over to check out your blog. GREAT job on that marathon. You are so strong!!

  14. I am running a 5 mile Turkey Trot on Sunday. Hopefully it won't be too cold!

  15. Congrats on another great race!

  16. Woooo! I dunno about the Thanksgiving marathon - you will have to drive your own silly behind home after that because I have been assigned to cook 10 lbs of sweet potatoes by noon.