The Craft Classic Half Marathon came to Atlanta for the first time in September 2016, but I was committed to marathon training, so I passed on the race. I had seen part of the race on one of our long runs (see Kurokitty's blog post), and had it in mind for this year. Any indecision on this race was resolved a couple of months ago when the runningnerds Facebook site posted an opportunity to get a $50 entry and then a 20% discount, paying only $43 after the service charge - a great price for a half marathon. Thanks runningnerds, and I was proud to wear the runningnerds race team (rrt) shirt this morning!
|Carbo-loading last night at Luciano's in Duluth with my in-laws. |
The linguine carbonara was delicious! This also doubled as pre-birthday celebration, thanks!
It happens that today is my last day in the male 50-54 age group. The male 55-59 age group has a bunch of fast-running men, so I don't expect my placements to improve, but I'm delighted that my running has continued to improve. I didn't have a particularly aggressive goal for this race, still focusing on mastering the negative split strategy. But the temperature was unseasonably cool once again, so I decided that I might start a little faster than I did in the Hotlanta Half in June.
|Race route: note the perfect temperature at the start!|
I had lined up between the 2:15 and 2:00 pacers, but then we all had to move to the other side of the start-finish line! The problem is that the middle of the pack runners had to move pass the fast group with this last-minute change, and I found the 2:00 pacers slightly behind me at the start! Apparently there was a countdown for the start, but with the buzz of the crowd, I didn't realize that the race had started until the runners in front of me began moving. Fortunately my watch was already synced up and so I started a few steps before crossing the timing mats.
|I'm the only person in this entire photo that is smiling! |
Maybe it's because I know the photographer (thanks Bonnie!).
Everyone else has an intense expression: they must be thinking
"I'm going to win this race!"
I had thought that the start would be slow due to the narrow path, but in fact I had no difficulty getting up to a 9 min / mile pace, as the path wound through beautiful Grant Park. My goal was to run between 9:00 and 10:00 min / mile paces for the first 6 miles, and then hopefully turn up the speed. I was on a 4 minute run / 30 second walk cycle, and had no difficulty getting to the side when I took the first walk break, shortly before leaving the park. Even after leaving the park and tackling the first hill, entering the Summerhill neighborhood, I was running easily at close to a 9:00 min/mile pace. Compared to the 8:00 min/mile pace that I had run in the 10K on Labor Day, this morning's run felt easy.
The first two miles approached the State Capitol, but upon turning onto DeKalb avenue, and leaving behind the buildings of Georgia State University and Grady Memorial Hospital, we were running straight into the rising sun. Even with sunglasses and a cap, I had to look down to the road to avoid being blinded, and couldn't look around at the scenery. After crossing the interstate 75-85 connector, we were in the middle lane, the so-called "suicide lane" which changes direction between the morning and evening rush hours. When we could see again due to a slight change in direction, there was nothing much to look at for the next couple of miles, as the road passed through an industrial wasteland paralleling a commercial train line and the MARTA tracks. It was a relief to turn into the Inman Park neighborhood, with nice homes lining the streets and plenty of shade from the trees. Fortunately I was running easily for the first 6 miles, averaging a 9:10 pace, just a few seconds slower than needed for a 2-hour finish, finishing the first 6 miles in 55 minutes even.
After passing the mile 6 marker, I decided to try to speed up a bit on the run sections, and ran my first sub-9 minute mile of the race, in 8:56. I caught up to the 2:00 pacers around the mile 7 marker - I hadn't seen them pass me earlier - and stayed slightly ahead of them for the next few miles. Turning onto Highland Avenue, I knew that the next two miles would be net downhill, and ticked off miles 8 and 9 in 8:35 and 8:43 on Highland and Virginia Avenues respectively. I was impressed with how many police were available to protect the intersections - and this was greatly appreciated, as there was more traffic than I had expected at 8:30 am on Saturday morning. Most runners including me were greeting or thanking the police as we passed, and most responded with more than just thanks, offering words of encouragement and congratulations as we ran.
Shortly after turning onto the Eastside Beltline, near its northern terminus at Piedmont Park, we passed the mile 9 marker. I knew that the next two miles would be a gentle but continuous uphill. Nonetheless I continued to run fairly strongly, finishing mile 10 in 9:08 (1:30:20 elapsed). I didn't see a marker and so I wasn't sure how close my Garmin was measuring to the actual distance covered, but with just a 5K to go, I started seriously thinking about making a 2-hour finish. After all, I can easily run a 29 minute 5K, and felt that I had enough energy and strength left in my legs to continue running 9 minute miles. But as we approached the south end of the Beltline, the one volunteer manning the water station was furiously trying to put out cups of water - but the cup that I picked up was full of - pretzels! Salty, dry, pretzels! "Anti-water"!
I was carrying some ShotBloks that I had begun taking at 45 minutes, and about every 10 - 15 minutes from that point, and also had a water bottle on my belt with a solution of Nuun, so I didn't really need the water. But I made the mistake of eating a couple of the pretzels. The pretzels were a really bad idea, and I crumpled the cup in my hand until I could dump it in a garbage can. "These pretzels are making me thirsty!" I needed most of the Nuun remaining in my water bottle to wash the down the salt. I hoped that there would be one more water station, actually serving liquid refreshment. Miles 11 and 12 were covered in 9:29 and 9:15, respectively. The 2-hour pacers caught up to me near the end of mile 12. Fortunately there was a water station serving blue Gatorade and cool water, just after the turn at the King Memorial MARTA station. That helped get me back on track. Although I didn't see any of the later mile markers, I noticed that I finished mile 12 at 1:49. Surely I could cover the last 1.1 miles in 11 minutes - or less!
|Successfully executed the run-walk strategy!|
Now that we were back in gently rolling hills, and my mouth was properly hydrated, I was able to speed up a bit. We ran past historic Oakland Cemetery, but at this point I was hardly looking around, just looking for landmarks to gauge how close we were to the finish line. When we crossed interstate 20, my watch was reading 12.5 miles - even though I had felt that the park was a mile away, having driven on a parallel road earlier this morning to get to the race. And for the next couple of blocks, we were running east, parallel to the highway, not seeming to get any closer to the park! So I started trying to run a bit faster. My glutes were starting to ache at this stage, but here is where the experience of marathon running really helped with the mental game - I knew that I could still finish strong, and that the ache wouldn't last much longer.
We turned south just as my watch read 12.7 miles. We had one last little uphill section, and as we crested the top of the hill, I began to speed up a bit more. When my watch signaled 13.0 miles, just before reaching 1:58, I smiled to myself - I'm definitely going to break 2 hours! In fact, if I ran a little faster, I could finish in 1:59! That goaded me to pick up the pace. I passed a couple of runners, and made the turn into the park with my watch reading 13.1 miles. I could hear some noise from the finish line, but where was it?! I kept running, seeing 1:59 on the watch, realizing that I should have accounted for a little meandering along the way. The road made a few turns through the park: with each turn, I expected to see the finish line, but no! Run, run, run, oh my I'm not going to beat 2:00:00 if the finish line doesn't show up really soon! Run, run, run, I was running at a furious pace - close to 8 miles per hour speed near the end - and finally there was the finish line - up ahead about 100 feet. Run, run, run, there's Bonnie just beyond the finish line to take my photo - and done! The clock was reading 77 minutes - must have been based on the 5K race that had started around 8:15 am. Natalie of runningnerds handed me my medal and congratulated me, I finally slowed down and stopped my watch: 2:00:10!
|Finish line celebration! With the run-walk strategy,|
I was "leapfrogging" the two runners behind me for most of the race.
I'm happy to see that I had reserved enough energy to move ahead of them near the end.
|I'm delighted with the Garmin data, showing that I managed a negative split, by about a minute |
(compare mile 6 elapsed with mile 12, and then the faster finish in miles 13 and 13.3)
I was momentarily disappointed to see that I had passed the 2-hour mark by a few seconds, and annoyed that I had to run 13.30 miles to reach the finish. But then I remembered that I had not really had the 2-hour goal for today's race, and realized that I had achieved my primary goal of a negative split, and that the race from start-to-finish had gone much better for me than I had expected!
September 11: official time posted, 2:00:01 chip time, 2:00:12 gun time.
|Celebrating our finishes: Kilsun Hogue and Sheelagh O'Malley|
After stretching my sore muscles, I took my food coupon to the Naanstop table, where they were serving small but delicious portions of chicken tikka masala. There was a much longer line for beer - being the Craft Classic sponsored by Monday Night Brewing - but at 9:45 in the morning, my preference is coffee. The line deterred any thought of trying to get a beer, although I stayed around long enough to thank Tes Sobomehin Marshall for the discounted registration, and shared that I had a great race today!
|Thanks for the discount code, Tes!|