In February 2018, the Atlanta Track Club offered the Southside 12K race as a new course as part of the Grand Prix series, free for members. At the time I was training for my fourth marathon, with the Atlanta Track Club training group. Our coach had instructed us to run the race at "half-marathon pace". But I wanted to challenge myself at a new distance, and see if I could run the 12K course at my personal best pace for a 10K.
I succeeded with my ambitious time goal, finishing in less than 60 minutes, but also pulled a hamstring muscle in my left leg. I tried to insist that it wasn't anything major, and tried to carefully manage it through the last month of training. But on marathon day one month later, it really flared up after 12 miles.
I had a miserable experience limping through the rest of the route in order to avoid a DNF. And that resulted in a CNR (could not run) for the next five weeks. I needed seven months of physical therapy to recover, just in time to run the New York City Marathon in November.
With the new year, my legs are healthy again. I struggled through a 5K on New Year's Day, in part because I was at least 10 pounds over my goal weight, but that got me back into tracking what I'm eating. I haven't lost much weight yet but I know that the best way is to do so gradually, and at least I'm eating much more healthily, and notice the difference in how I feel. I've also cut way back on caffeine - just one cup in the morning at home and none at all during the day at work. As a result I'm sleeping much better and don't feel tired during the day, which was what was sending me to the coffee machine in the front office.
I was a bit nervous about today's race. For one thing, I set a personal best in the 12K distance that I may never beat! And with an extremely hilly course, I knew that I could injure myself again if I ran with poor form. However, I'm training again with Coach Carl Leivers, hoping to improve on my half marathon performance in the Publix Atlanta half in mid-March, and aiming for a 1:55 finish, which translates to about an 8:45 min / mile average pace. He advised me to run the race at goal half-marathon pace, which would get me to the finish line around 65 minutes. Carl knows that I'm working on improving my pace discipline. To quote: "The one thing that I would caution is let's try to have you hit that pace without any crazy sprinting / pushing the last mile. Aside from the injury last year (and sprinting downhill is certainly a major issue for hamstrings!), it also doesn't really fall in line with a true measure of goal pace." With that advice in mind, I was determined to follow his instructions perfectly.
I arrived for the race about 1 hour early, wearing a cap and two layers, showing off the New York City Marathon shirt for my top layer. It was windy and moderately cold, 43 deg F at the start, but at least it wasn't raining. I decided to start near the front of wave C, for runners at a pace between 8:30 and 9:30 min / mile. As we started, that was a very good decision. I didn't try to keep up with the half-dozen who sprinted ahead. We were running downhill at the beginning but I tried to rein myself in. I checked my watch after about a quarter-mile, and was running about an 8:15 min / mile pace, so I relaxed my pace a bit more.
I won't go through the mile-by-mile summary this time, but after the 1.2 miles, we ran a two-loop route with each loop approximately 5K. I managed to run every mile between 8:24 and 9:04, and with fairly good correlation with net elevation gain or loss for each mile. I decided to run straight through instead of run-walk, other than walking through the water stations on each loop. This was the first time in months that I had run more than 5 miles or so without using intervals, but at the average 8:45 min / mile pace, my pulse rate and breathing was under control. It wasn't an easy jog, I was definitely working, and I could feel the lactate burn in my legs as we climbed hill after hill, but the route always crested before I felt that I had to substantially slow down or take a walk break.
Near the end of the first loop, I began hearing sirens and police horns in the background, then rapidly growing nearer. Was that the winner coming into the finish? Shortly before reaching the timing mat, I could see the police car lights about 100 yards back. Atlanta Track Club personnel were eagerly looking for the winner. As I passed the timing mat, they began unrolling the finish line ribbon. Then I heard the announcement of the first finisher, in an amazing time of 42:15! With a four-minute delay for wave C, I barely avoided being lapped! When I checked the official result after the race, I finished the first loop in 37:49, at an average pace of 8:42 min / mile (about 4.3 miles elapsed).
The second loop went smoothly as well. I wondered if I was slowing just a little, but resolved to maintain a consistent effort and not worry about "making up the time" by pushing harder. As the mile 5 and 6 markers ticked by, I put the mindset as if I had 13.1 miles to run today, and that helped me settle down with the pace. Coming into the finish, I was aware that I was very close to the goal pace! The clock read 69 minutes as I approached, my watch ticked past 65 minutes, but I felt that I had just executed the workout perfectly! I continued running for another half-mile or so, to gradually cool down and finish 9 miles for the day.
When I checked my official chip time, I was delighted to see 1:05:05, 8:44 min / mile overall pace! And I did it without making any "adjustments" to my pace in the last mile!
When I returned home, I wrote Coach Carl. He responded quickly, and was also really pleased with the result. Of course we were both very happy that I finished unscathed. Carl asked how the hills compared with what I would face at the Publix half. My feeling was that the organizers had squeezed all of the hills of the Publix half marathon into 7.45 miles, but the scientist in me demanded that I check the data. It turns out, today's race had an even tougher elevation profile!
Southside 12K: 827 ft net gain, 828 ft net loss
Publix GA 13.1 miles: 599 ft net gain, 608 ft net loss
To compare with the marathons that I've run outside of Atlanta:
Chickamauga 26.2 miles: 641 ft net gain, 635 net loss
New York City 26.2 miles: 821 ft net gain, 841 net loss