Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Marathon

On Thanksgiving I ran the Atlanta Marathon. It is the oldest marathon in the South and one of the 10 oldest in the country. And it is the only marathon run on an Olympic marathon course in the U.S.A.

This was marathon number 7 for me-- 2nd time running Atlanta. It was my first marathon 4 years ago. I ran it in 4:08.

Honestly I didn't have high expectations for this race. I haven't had a good race all of 2008 and I've been battling lots of over training issues recently. Of course I wanted to PR and it is no secret that I have been chasing a 3:30. But really I figured on this course a success for me would be qualifying for Boston again and that is 3:45.

So the bad news is, no 3:30. That's okay. The way I look at it is that when I finally get my 3:30, (and I will) then I will have to set a new, more difficult goal. And since 3:30 is proving pretty damn difficult I am fine having that goal still.

But the good news is that I did run a PR and icing on the cake I nabbed first in my age group.

Here are the details:
Time: 3:37:07 chiptime (3:37:22 gun time) Yes, I know that is only a 20 second off my PR at Chicamauga but trust me. Atlanta is a way tougher course. So I see it has a bigger improvement than it first looks.
Half split: 1:45--I actually thought I skated in under 1:45 but no. I was hoping to hit the half at 1:42-44 to bank some time. The first 1/3 though ended up being tougher than I remembered.
Overall Place: 150 out of 730 finishers
Gender Place: 14 out of 178 women
Division (35-39 age group): 1st out of 33. Hell. Yes!

On to the boring details.

The day before I didn't run. I was trying all sorts of new and crazy stuff after my DNF at the Silver Comet Half in October. First there was that week off from running during what should have been a peak week. I had planned to follow my peak week of 72 miles with an even bigger peak week of 80 miles. Well, clearly my plan did not work out at all. Instead I rode my bike, swam, did yoga, and lifted weights and debated what to do about my training.

After a week off from running the swelling in my legs was down and I was able to resume running without pain or calf or tendon issues. I held the mileage at 53-42 miles a week during November up to the race. I cut out the heavy cross training with the bike and swim. After my last long run of 21 miles 3 weeks out I just ran faster shorter runs and did lots of yoga and lifted weights to strengthen my lower leg muscles and maintain upper body tonality. I had never done a 3 week taper for any of my marathons. So I was really worried about how this would play out and also how fat I was going to get.

So not running the day before the marathon was new for me and I kept myself busy with Thanksgiving preparation, making signs for the kids to hold at the race and making sure I had everything together. I asked Ryan, thinking he would laugh in my face, if he and the kids would drive me to the start and drop me off. I am a person who believes it never hurts to ask. Being this type of person means that I am okay with hearing no and in fact I expected it. But surprisingly he agreed. I mean Ryan hasn't driven me to a race since before we had kids. Wait, here is me after my first ever race the 1998 Atlanta Half marathon--he drove me to that (ah, young love):
I was asleep by 10:30--almost unheard of for me the night before a race. I slept lightly but slept and got up at 4:45. Made coffee, took the dog out, had a glass of water, small bowl of Uncle Sam's cereal and a whole wheat bagel and cream cheese with salt. I showered, dressed and stretched and then woke everyone up. We were in the car and on the road by 6:14am. One minute ahead of schedule. I listened to my ipod to tune out the children. Their morning chatter was making me anxious.

To short cut through more boring exposition here is the cliff notes version of why running the full on Thanksgiving morning is better than doing the half:
1. You can park at the start and the finish--they are the same and there is plenty of parking. No MARTA. I mean really, that fact alone makes the extra 13.1 worthwhile.

2. Speaking of plenty there is basically enough johnny on the spots that every marathoner gets their own. No wait lines to pee. Again, yet another stand alone reason as to why the full is better than the half.

3. A tent. With a heater in it. And coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Water and Gatorade. I don't like doughnuts so that isn't enough to make me want to run an extra 13.1 mile s but I know plenty of people who might want to.

4. You don't have to go line up until about 5 minutes before the start. So not a lot of standing around and freezing.

5. The start time is 7:30 am not 7 am like the half. Oh and you only need to get there about 20-30 minutes before the race. Really, you could just show up at 7:25 and have no problem.

I met up with Doug (Steph's husband) in the tent with the heater and the doughnuts and at 7:20 something we headed over to the start. I kissed Ryan and the kids good bye. While Doug and I walked I steered him towards the front. I told him it would matter in the results where we seeded ourselves since they went by guntime not chiptime. He laughed at me and asked if I thought I had a chance at winning. I laughed back and said no but did say that second place woman last year was around 3:30 and 4 years ago when I ran it I was 4th in my age group. He pointed out that the field was twice the size this year but still lined up where I decided we should. I was further affirmed in my lining up choice when the girl in front of me said her goal time was 3:30. I also, at the point, let go the silly notion of any kind of placement award. Oh well. Boston or bust was the goal. Mama needed a 2010 BQ qualifier since my 2009 will be going to waste since we are taking a trip to New Orleans in May. Damn finances and stupid bad economy.

And with little fan fare we were off. The first few miles are easy: little baby rollers. Tiny blips until mile 6 when the first bad uphill comes. Then there would be another to follow that would top out at the 8th mile. And then I thought it was all easy peasy until mile 20 when the hill hell of a last 10k would begin.

It was cold but I was heated up before we even finished the first mile and Doug kindly held my fuel bottle while I un-shirted and tied it around my waist. Doug and I goofed off and joked for the first few miles--throwing up our hands and waving our fingers and saying "Jazz Hands!" Don't ask. It was my idea.

I told Doug that this course was a "tour of bars I have been to" marathon. I had to remind him of this point when were in the 6th mile and I suggested we make a pit stop and see "the ladies". He thought it was funny that I knew where those clubs were.

Doug, like his wife, was my keeper and kept reminding me to keep it reigned in. But really that wasn't so hard to do. The 7:54 average we were maintaining didn't feel as easy as I had hoped. I know for me to run a 3:30 marathon an eight minute pace has to feel like nothing. I could tell my heart rate was higher than it should have been. Not a lot but was still high. I don't really know all that science but I do know that if an 8 minute mile is the pace you want to hold for 26 miles--especially 26 miles where the hilliest part isn't until after the 20 mile mark--the 8 minute mile pace needs to feel like you are on a walk with your grandma. And it just didn't feel like that. Now it didn't feel impossible or like I was going to die, it just wasn't easy. So I was worried.

Apparently this must have read on my face. Steph, Doug's wife, was volunteering at the 5 mile water station. Later, after the race, she told me I didn't look good then and she didn't think the race was going to go well for me. I wasn't hurting--body felt pretty good-- but I was worried and aware that even though I was running sub 8 pace (we hit 5 miles around 39:xx) it wasn't going to last. Remember, I've run this race before so I was concerned about the later carnage that was going to happen. This is my 3rd marathon where I run up Peachtree to the finish. The previous 2 (Atlanta 2005 and GaING 2007) were a death march that I walked most of the last 5-10k. And that just wasn't the vision I had in mind for my 2008 Thanksgiving marathon.

I have to admit that as much as I liked having Doug's company-- and he was probably keeping me from going out too fast-- it was driving me crazy that he seemed to be having an easier time with the pace. Right before our first big hill at 6 miles he stopped to pee and easily and effortlessly caught up to me. Grr. . .

Then coming up the long hill to the 8th mile (Corner of Piedmont and Peachtree) he was all still happy jazz hands while my heart rate was in the attic. See, here we are at the end of that hill.

Here is closer one that it is unfortunate looking of me (in mid blowing kiss pose) but just look how happy and easy Doug looks. There was that small part of me that hated him, wanted to trip him. Sorry, Doug. You know I love you!

It really took me awhile to get beyond the hills at 6 and 8 miles. They had done a number on me. Just as I would start to feel better a little false hill would be there to take me out. It was then that I started to remember how the first time I had run this course that I felt like the whole thing was uphill.

The 11th mile is always a rough patch for me anyway in any long run I do, so at least I was expecting it to suck then. I really don't know how to get past that. In training I have tried making my mid length runs closer to 16 miles rather than closer to 10 but nothing seems to have done the trick. 11 miles is still a down spot for me. So it annoyed me when Doug stopped again to pee. I even thought, ha! I am going to drop him. Punish him for making it seem so easy.

But no kidding within 3 minutes there he was at my shoulder doing that damn jazz hand thing that I started. Happy Doug. Pissed off Nat. I resigned myself to the fact that eventually I would be getting dropped. I did have to pee and I remembered that in 2005 there was a Johnny-on-the-Spot around 15 miles that I stopped at. I figured that would be a good stopping point and I could bail out of the pace gracefully under the guise of a potty break.

I worked hard to stay with Doug and the little pack we had around us. We passed a few people and I don't think many, if any, passed us. I know the men where chit chatting but I was having my pity party and was trying to listen to my music and just wishing that the half point would hurry up and get here. And finally it was.

Then I was annoyed that there was a little hill. It was suppose to be downhill and flat now. What the hell is this little hill now? I didn't remember that hill from the half--since I thought we were now at the start of the half marathon course, nor did I remember it from the year I ran the full. So this made me realize that I wasn't in too great of shape since this "hill" has always been there and I never noticed it before. Not good, not good at all. My hamstrings were feeling tight. Not bad but there is a feeling I get in the hamstrings when I run my tempo or faster runs or shorter races. Never had it in a marathon. I was also feeling like vomiting. I had just had my second Gu and I felt certain the first was still sitting there in my tummy. I knew I had to get my heart rate down so the Gu would digest. I just had that full feeling and it isn't a fun feeling to run with. Doug was still being the cheerleader usually his wife is and was trying to encourage me as the miles went by: More than half way done Nat! He would say, or; Now we are going to have flat area! Soon a downhill! Jazz hands! Why oh why did I start that stupid jazz hand thing? Add that to the list of "Dumb Things Nat Thinks Up During a Marathon".

Finally sometime in the 15th mile my Johnny-on-the-Spot appeared and I told Doug to go, I would catch him if I could. I tried to hustle but I did take advantage of my little break. After wards, I was feeling much better and typically the 15-22 mile range of a marathon is my strong suit. Not to mention this was the fast part of the course. I probably only lost 40 seconds stopping to pee and figured I could catch Doug in no time.


When I started back I couldn't even see Doug. And worse there were now a few women in front of me that hadn't been there. (I did manage to pass all the girls but one and then only one other would pass me the rest of the race but not until mile 23).

I was shocked at how much had changed in the half minute or so I had been gone. So I started running! I switched the screen on Garmin from the average pace setting to current pace. Current pace never went above 7:30 and I even saw 6:46 at one point. After a few minutes I had Doug and the guy he was running with that had a bright green singlet that said "Go Daddy Go" in my sight. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn't close the gap significantly. I kept thinking if I run like mad I will catch them and then I can rest. Then I realized how irrational that sounded and after a bit at a 7 minute pace I got a hold of myself and said if I catch them I catch them. Chill.

So I slowed it down but still kept the pace below 8 minute miles but well above a 7--because 7's for me is barely manageable in a 10k so they definitely have no business anywhere in a marathon.

Around 18 miles I came up on Ryan and the kids:
At this point I was feeling great! This is was how I had wanted, expected to feel. That just goes to tell you what uphills do to me. I feel like I weigh 15 extra pounds. On flat and downhills I feel like I am flying! I love it.
Here is some video Ryan shot in the 18th mile. Sorry it is sideways.

I finally caught Doug in the 19th mile. This is the only true downhill on the course and it is huge and it absolutely trashes your quads. But I love it! I love it in the half and I love in the Peachtree. I am, if nothing else, good at running the downhills. I know that doesn't say much for me as a runner but it is my gift.

I couldn't believe how fantastic I was feeling. Mile 19 never feels this good! I basically said hi to Doug at the top of the hill and he told me to "go get 'em!" I ran as fast as I could manage down that hill and hit the 20 mile mark at just a few seconds over 2 hours and 40 minutes. Almost spot on for a 3:30 pace.

Sigh. If only that last 10k wasn't all up hill! Even if it was rolling hills 3:30 would have been in my reach. So I knew as I started up Cardiac Hill (did I mention the hills in this race have names? They had a contest to name them.) that 3:30 was gone. I wasn't sad because I had known since the first few miles it wasn't mine to have. I was just thrilled to have gotten where I was feeling this good. Keep in mind every race in 2008 I have felt like absolute ass and here I was at mile 20 of a marathon feeling like how I use to feel when I ran. It was a great feeling.

And, even better, I was happy because I had an hour and five minutes left to run the final 10k and I could still qualify for Boston. Talk about having no pressure. I could have walked and enjoyed myself. Stopped and had a cup of coffee. But my goal of a PR was still within reach and so I had to hang on that ledge. And hang for dear life I did.

By 22 miles I was at 3 hours and one minute. For a 3:30 you need to hit the 22 mark in 2 hours and 56 minutes. Yeah, mile 20 and 21 were slow! But I was still okay, not going to bonk, not too uncomfortable, and still hanging on the ledge. And I just couldn't run any faster if I tried. Believe me I wanted to but I had Scarlet O'Hilla, Grade Expectations and Capitol Punishment left to go. There is no real downhill until 25.5 mile mark. Just uphills plateauing.

I kept visualizing what I had left; where I had to go still. And during this time I thought my thoughts about Evan and how nothing hurt more than that. And when I would start to waver, wanting to walk "for just a bit", I reminded myself about the 23.5 mile long run I had done through Indian Hills in training and then in the afternoon that same day the 4.5 trail miles I ran at a 9:30 pace. I could do this, slowly but I could do it.

So keeping those thoughts with me I told myself I could run all the way up Peachtree to the finish. Seriously. I don't know how much I can stress this: Yes, in the Peachtree road race and in the Atlanta half I have always run up Peachtree Road-- no problem-- but at both Ga ING and in my first marathon I walked so much up Peachtree. So just running--no matter how slow-- was just huge for me. I was so dang proud to be running up those hills, not walking up them! More than time that was my goal for this marathon.

Sometime around the Fox Ryan and the kids drove past me. Beau had his window down and was yelling to everyone "Walking is Not an option!"

I am sure a lot of people thought that was really, really cute.

I felt like the morning was just flying by. Normally at this point in a marathon time seems to be slowing down but I didn't have that feeling at all. Yes. My legs felt like lead weights but I wasn't in pain! I felt better at mile 24 than I did at mile 21 of any of those 10 long runs I did in training.

After I passed Underground I kept looking for Mitchell Street. There is a tiny downhill right before you run up past the Capitol. It seemed like it was taking an eternity. Finally. Mitchell Street and I started running as hard as could manage and passed lots of people. I was like; Out of my way people! I've got places to be!

I looked at Garmin. Oh boy, a PR was going to be close. Run, don't let it go!

I was trying to do all sorts of silly math. I wasn't sure how far I had to go exactly since Garmin was off. And I wasn't sure how far "behind" the clock I was. I figured I had to make it up Capitol Punishment in less than 2 minutes. My friend Karen from Big Peach was volunteering, saw me and started running up Punishment with me yelling Go Nat! Towards the top I asked her to take my hydration bottle and was thankful that she did.

Hills! All. Done. Yeah!!!

Home free! Go go go!

Come on down hill! Here it is! Go! I have lots to give but am soooo glad to almost be done! I glanced at Garmin; he was flasing a sub 7:30 pace. Go Nat go!Pick it up, pick it up!

I just flew past people. Heard them yelling my name. Oh, it all felt so fabulous and horrible at the same time. Then I saw the clock 3:37:22--whoo hoo! Barely a PR but a PR nonetheless. I'll take it! So happy. Other runners call out to me congrats and great race. Yes, yes it was! Best marathon so far for me! Just think. If I hadn't stopped to pee I could have come in under 3:37. I'll have to remember to pee on myself next time. (kidding)

And here is that finish line video:

Some finish line photos:
So happy and feeling great! Carmella made me a wood and weed bouquet:

I'd been running the race a few steps behind the vomit and tummy trouble line. My stomach really started to hurt upon finishing.
Doug coming in. He ran 4:27 at ING as his first last spring and 8 months later he runs 3:51 at Atlanta. He even set a 6 minute PR at the half split. 36 minute PR on a tough course is amazing!!!! Thanks so much for running with me!

The Aftermath:
As always Peachtree Road did a number on my quads. I don't know what it is about that road but after every race on it (well except the Peachtree, 10k's don't leave me sore) my quads are trashed. And they feel the worst ever after this race than any others. Good news is my calves felt pretty good. Say what you will about my compression socks but they make a difference for me during and after a race.

I ran 3.4 miles Friday after down on the Column's Dr trail while the kids rode their bikes. Felt good running and then after wards it was so much worse; everything stiffer, my fatigue inordinate and I was just worthless the rest of the day. I even watched an Adam Sandler movie. I hate Adam Sandler. That is how paralyzed I was. My thinking is that I shouldn't have stopped running. It doesn't seem to hurt until you stop.

Today I did an hour of yoga. It was embarrassing how uncoordinated I was but my legs feel so much better, looser for it. I plan on running tomorrow and then am looking at doing some local 5k's in December. Figure it is about time I run one of those. I was hoping to do the Alpharetta Marathon but it looks like they canceled it. So now, since I have designated myself "home town girl" because of the crappy economy, I am looking at Callaway Gardens or Aviation marathon in Jan, or Snicker's in March and of course Ga ING. Any others that I don't know about? Thoughts on any of those?

Thanks, as always, for reading and being so encouraging!

Shout outs to Anne and Tara and Carrie. 3 of my oldest friends and they all ran the Atlanta Half for their first ever half marathon. Heck, I think it was Carrie's first race. You guys are awesome!


  1. Way to go! I actually read the whole post without skipping any paraagraphs!

  2. congrats on a great race! i was a couple minutes behind you, but i didn't have quite as much energy left in the last miles. hope your quads are feeling better already!

  3. Great Race Nat! Congrats on the BQ and PR, as well. Tapering for Jax. Going for a sub 3 to go to Boston in 2010, too. Enjoy the rest of the Holiday Season, you've earned it.

  4. 4/25/09, don't forget...

    Great recap, as usual!

  5. Congrats on your PR! That is awesome and very inspiring! Thanks for the details - they are always so helpful in my own training...Jaimee (Weimer's friend)

  6. Harriet wants to see Thanksgiving photos and she doesn't do facebook. Lala

  7. I like how my mom can't call me or face book me but has to leave me messages on my blog. No congrats? Your the best most awesome we are leaving everything to daughter in the world? Really, where's the love?

  8. Great job! I love the videos, too. Kudos to your hubby for all of his support. Way to go get that BQ and looking good doing it!

  9. Thanks all and congrats Lindsay on your BQ! Quads are getting there. I ran 6 miles tonight.
    Good luck Josh!
    Stoph I haven't forgotten about CMM. Are you still shooting for 4 hours? I do plan on ING so CMM will be a B effort. I assume my room will be there for me???

  10. Yes it was my first race ever.

  11. Yay Nat!!! A PR is a PR, and a PR on a crazy tough course like that is extra cool. You kicked butt! The recap of the last 10K was awesome. I should read it again before my next marathon.

  12. Congrats! I'm so glad you had a great race.

  13. Great job Natty! You are so close to a 3:30 that it isn't even funny.

    I hear that the Avition Marathon at Robbins is really really boring but a somewhat fast course.

  14. Beautifully done!! Nat!!! I honestly couldn't tell if that was Carmela or you in the pic from your first race :-)

    That was just an awesomely executed race plan, and you really held it together through the hills.

    Congrats again!!! On to Boston :-)

  15. You know we're leaving everything to Colby!

  16. YAY! Great Job- I'm so glad you got your good running feeling back! :)

  17. Way to go Nat! We knew you could do it

  18. Thanks for the shout out. So, i guess this ATL is a hard half? Huh. . . funny how you didn't mention that when you were putting the hard sell on me, Tara and carrie. . . .

    No, JK, I'm glad you pushed us, and appreciate the positivity that you give everyone. It is funny how when a friend believes in you, you believe more in yourself.

    Also, i think Jazz hands help a lot.

  19. great job on the PR!
    I found your blog from the Runner's World forum.

    Keep up the good work!

  20. Congrats on a BQ and a PR on tough course too!! Getting first in your age group is FANTASTIC!!! I, too, find my goal of 3:30 daunting...hopefully my running ultras in 2009 will make marathons seem easier. You're going to have a fun time in BOSTON!!!

    You have a facebook too?

  21. I love the play-by-play. Congratulations!
    Have you ever run the Country Music Marathon in Nashville? Tons of people. I've done the half 3 times.
    It's at the end of April and it's a lot of fun.