November 11, 2017: The Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon

"The Marathon Always Wins."  Steve Sisson, Rogue Running

Chickamauga 2016, 5:01:28
Publix Georgia 2017, 4:48:13

I'm establishing a pattern of two marathons per year, a spring and a fall marathon.  Although I appreciated the excellent organization of the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in 2016, I enjoyed the energy of the larger Georgia Marathon in March 2017, and decided to try for a bigger marathon for fall 2017.  But I didn't get into the New York Marathon lottery (17% odds this year), and after determining that the Savannah Rock & Roll Marathon wasn't ideal timing for personal reasons, I decided that I had some unfinished business at Chickamauga.  I had struggled a great deal in the last four miles of last year's marathon.  I was a tiny bit disappointed that I needed more than five hours to finish, and was confident that I could do better now that I had a little bit of experience. 

But, I decided not to join a formal training program this year, because I missed the experience of running some of the weekend 5K to half-marathon races in the late summer and early fall months.  I set up a training schedule for the long runs on Saturdays or Sundays.  In the end, the longest run that I managed was a total of 19 miles, four weeks in advance of the marathon.  On that day, I simply ran out of time to run: I needed to get on with other activities for the rest of the day, but I was confident that I could have run 7 more miles if I had needed to.  I felt that I might be a tiny bit undertrained, but mentally I was ready.  I know what it's like to run 26 miles, having done it twice now.  And the marathon is all about the mental preparation, right?!
With training partners Jennifer Butz, Carl Line, and Steve Friedman
The final part of my mental preparation was watching the New York City marathon on television last weekend.  I was inspired by Shalane Flanagan's breakaway from the pack around mile 23 and her strong finish, winning by a full minute over last year's winner, Mary Keitany.  The men's finish was exciting, with Geoffrey Kamworor barely staying ahead of Wilson Kipsang's last-minute sprint to the finish, and Meb Keflezighi completing his 26th marathon, probably his final race as a professional.  

Most of this year's fall marathons have been run in unseasonably warm conditions, from Chicago in October, to New York and Savannah last weekend.  My choice of Chickamauga, on November 11, proved to be ideal: the temperature at the start was a little cold, 37 degrees F, but fortunately it wasn't windy at all.  The temperature was forecast to rise to about 50 deg F by midday.  Better a little too cool than too warm.  And no chance of rain today!  I was comfortable wearing two running shirts and tights, gloves with a chemical hand warmer, and just a cap, not needing any protection for my ears.  I carried about 30 oz of Nuun in two bottles, one on a running belt and another in a recyclable water bottle, and would take water at every station, to stay well-hydrated.  I had four packs of shot blocks, planning to take one every mile after 40 minutes, so that I wouldn't hit a wall due to lack of calories.  I resolved to follow a strict 3:30 run / 0:30 walk interval plan, plus walking through every water station, and to start off with the 5-hour pace group for the first few miles.  Once I was assured that I had not started off too fast, I would run with a relaxed rhythm, not pressing, not working too hard.  The finale would be decided after the 23-mile mark, where I would evaluate and try to accelerate a bit to finish strongly.  Not quite like Shalane Flanagan, but I could be strong and confident like her, motoring into the final miles.  I was confident that I would improve on my 4:48 time in the Georgia Marathon, since I wouldn't have the big hills of the Atlanta / Decatur course.  My "soft" goal was sub-4:45, and my "stretch" goal was 4:30, although I didn't dare share that with anyone. 
With Tucker Running Club: Patrick and Heather Garner, holding Seamus Garner,
and Lindy Liu on the right.  Everyone is smiling before the start! 
Starting way back with the 5-hour pace group, I was beginning the marathon with a couple of friends.  Heather Garner, a veteran of over 100 marathons, was serving as the 5-hour pacer today.  The pacer uniform for this marathon was a bright orange shirt, very easily spotted from a distance.  Lindy Liu, another friend with the Tucker Running Club, was running her second marathon.  Her "soft" goal was a 5-hour finish.  Lindy prepared by serving as a run leader for the Atlanta Track Club half-marathon training group this fall, and then adding miles as needed on her own.  Lindy had shared her Garmin link with me a few months ago, so I could see that she had diligently completed all of the training, including a 22-mile run on the same weekend that I completed 19 miles.  

Following long-standing tradition, the 38th running of the Chickamauga Marathon began at 7:30 am, with the loud report and orange flash of a cannon!  It took about a minute to get to the starting line, and I followed Heather and the other pacer across the starting line.    Then I discovered that my Garmin, which had been primed for the start, had disconnected from the satellite in the interim.  It took between 45 and 60 seconds after my official chip start before I could start the timer, but I would be able to account for that as the race proceeded, just add a minute to the time recorded.  
At the start.  Blue bib is for the full marathon,
yellow bibs are for half marathon runners.
I was careful to take the first walk break at 3:30 elapsed, and walk for the full 30 seconds before running again.  We made a loop around Barnhardt Circle, then due south out of the small town of Fort Oglethorpe, and with a couple of turns, entered the park, officially the Chickamauga Battlefield National Monument.  I covered the first two miles at an 11 minute / mile pace, very conservatively, as planned.  We reached the first water station shortly after the 2-mile marker, at which point I moved ahead of the 5-hour pace group.  I didn't obsess too much over my watch, but was comfortably jogging at an average 10 minute / mile pace, including the walk breaks.  The route was very gently rolling, a little uphill, then a little downhill, some level running, such a nice change from running in Atlanta.  Bonnie was there to cheer me on at mile 4.  The road through the forest was lovely, a few leaves gently falling from the trees, it couldn't have been a better day for running.  A few miles into the race, I caught up to a pair of women in the orange shirts, pacing at 4:45.  I easily passed them, hoping that I hadn't moved too quickly.  Being careful not to work too hard, I just kept jogging along, taking the prescribed walk break every 3-1/2 minutes, plus additional short breaks through each water station.  I was proud to pass Bonnie at mile 8, knowing that she would see the 4:45 pacers behind me. 
Mile 4, I've settled into a good rhythm.
Around 12 miles into the race, I spotted more orange shirts up ahead, the 4:30 pacers.  Reminding myself that a negative split race would require that I didn't pass them before the half marathon mark, I tucked in behind them.  OK, for a moment I had moved a few feet in front, I couldn't help myself, but on the next walk break, the pacers and a few other runners passed me again, and I followed them past the 13.1 timing strip.  2:14 on my watch, but adding the 45-60 second delay, that was probably just right.  I passed the 4:30 pacers as I began the second loop of the race.  My legs still felt good, as I saw Bonnie around mile 14.  I had removed my gloves a few miles earlier, and handed them to her as I passed her, proud to show her that I was ahead of the 4:30 pacers.  She will be impressed by how well I'm doing, I thought.  
Mile 14: I thought that I could run at this easy pace forever. 
In the Publix Georgia Marathon, I had started to push a bit more after the half-marathon point, but today I resolved to stay at the same easy pace.  After the 16-mile marker, I noticed that my legs were getting a little sore.  I was slowing down a bit, but was still moving at about a 10:15 - 10:30 min / mile pace.  No worries, even when one of the 4:30 pacers caught up to me around mile 18.  He had lost his partner for some reason.   I ran with the 4:30 pacer for a moment until the next walk break, no problem, I would catch up when I began running again.  Hmm, I couldn't gain on the 4:30 pacer when I began running at the easy pace.  And it was too soon to begin pressing.  Stay with my plan, I told myself, as I wasn't expecting to run at the 4:30 pace until later in the race.  

Then the other 4:30 pacer caught up with me around the mile 19 marker.  He had turned his shirt inside-out, indicating that he was no longer able to pace the race.  He told one of the other runners that he had been recovering from an injury and had also been a bit under the weather the past week, and probably shouldn't have tried to pace this soon.  But he didn't look like he was having too much trouble.  On the other hand, not only were my legs sore, the soles of my feet were also starting to really hurt.  I told myself, this isn't anything serious, nothing is actually injured, this is just typical soreness.  I took my first unplanned walk break.  Then I realized that the best way to ease the pain was to get to the finish line as quickly as possible.  I tried to speed up, but was so relieved when the watch signaled another walk break after a moment.  

In the 20th mile, I saw a few men ahead of me leaning against a fence, stretching their legs.  I had never before stopped in a race, but decided that 30 seconds of stretching might be just the cure that I needed.  15 seconds of a runner's stretch for each leg, as a bunch of other runners jogged by: OK, let's get going, time's a-wasting.  Nope, that really didn't help.  I didn't remember this much of an uphill struggle on the first loop.  A leaf fell out of a tree and hit me in the face, that was really annoying.  How far along am I?  19.75 miles elapsed.  Suddenly, I'm really struggling.  I remember that my longest training run in this cycle was 19 miles.  Gee, could there be a connection with my difficulties at this point?  

As my watch signaled completing 20 miles (a moment before reaching the 20-mile marker), I ran my first slower-than-11 minute mile since mile 2.  3:24 on the watch, 3:25 elapsed, adding the extra 45-60 seconds.  Only a 10K to go, I can do this.  I can run 6.2 miles in 62 minutes to finish in 4:27.  In fact I can take one more walk break, 4:28 would be just fine.  Oh no, this is really painful.  And that hill is definitely steep.  What happened to the gently rolling course?  C'mon Frank, embrace the pain cave, it's supposed to hurt at this stage.  There really isn't anything wrong.  
Look at how badly my pace dropped off after mile 19.  
Mile 21, 11:39; then mile 22, 13:17.  A 4:30 finish is slipping away.  Another extra walk break will help, remember my plan to push after mile 23.  Mile 23 required 13:30.  This is just as tough as last year at this point.  I really don't want to run anymore.  Why did I think that I could run a marathon?  Walking feels OK, except for my burning soles.  An ice bath for my feet will feel really good back at the hotel.  And I can get back to the hotel more quickly if I run.  Run.  Run!  In a minute.  OK, RUN NOW!!  Ouch, take a walk break.  What happened to speeding up at the end?  People are passing me.  I passed them earlier in the race, so easily.  Whose having the last laugh now?  My race has completely fallen apart.  

Mile 24 signaled, 12:51, about 4:17 elapsed; the mile 24 marker is way up ahead, around 4:18 on my watch.  2.2 miles to the finish line, still on track to finish well ahead of my 4:48 PR.  Then one of the 4:45 pacers passed me.  I said to her "I was hoping that I wouldn't see you again."  She tried to encourage me, telling me that she was about a minute ahead of pace.  But by my calculation, she is right on pace.  I'm going to keep her in my sights.  Then she pulls away out of view.  My watch shows that I'm moving slower than 15 min / mile pace.  No, NO, I can't let my Garmin show a 15 minute mile.  Run, RUN, RUN!  OK, public embarrassment averted with 14:29 for mile 25 on the Garmin, about 1.4 miles to go, but 4:31 elapsed.  Bonnie must be wondering if I'm OK, I wonder if she realizes how much I've slowed.    

Isn't this where I was going to sprint to the finish?  But I can barely run, and then only for about a minute at a time.  I walk out of the park to cross the highway, where the police have stopped traffic so that I can cross.  So I had better run across the road.  Thanks for stopping the traffic for me.  Walk again for a moment.  Now I can hear the announcer at the finish line, just a couple of blocks to my right.  Yet another runner is approaching from behind me.  Then he pulls up to walk with me.  For some reason, he didn't pass me.  I'm trying to will myself to begin running again, but am having trouble finding the motivation.  Then I look at my watch, mile 26 elapsed on the watch at 4:44, but I know from last year that the mile 26 marker won't appear until I reach Barnhart Circle, with the finish line visible across the field.  I say to the other runner, "I'll set a PR if I can get to the finish line in 3 minutes."  He responds, "Let's go, then!"  With his encouragement, we both begin running.  As I turn onto Barnhart Circle, I pick up the cadence of my pace, and move ahead for a few seconds, then my new friend catches up with me.  As we pass the mile 26 marker, I think that we're going to run in together, then I falter for a few steps, he looks back for a moment as I tuck in just behind his left shoulder.  There's the 13 mile marker for the half marathon, 0.11 miles to go.  We turn the last corner, there is the finish line, waaaay up ahead!  Faster, faster, I think.  Faster, faster, the other guy moves ahead.  I tie an imaginary bungee cord to his back and pick up a little speed myself.  I don't notice my burning feet, my hurting legs, as the magnetism of the finish line is drawing me closer and closer.  I see the race clock turning over to 4:49, knowing that it took me a minute to cross the line, at least I will have a PR by some seconds.  People are cheering, I'm almost there, and, AND, AND, I'M DONE!  With the last bit of energy, I raise my right fist in victory, let out a Shalane-like cry of "Heck, YEAH!!!", knowing that children are around.  I wobble to a stop, bending my head to accept the medal, "Thank you," stopping my watch, getting a bottle of water, bending over at the waist in exhaustion for a moment.  Then standing up, saying to the other runner "Thanks for encouraging me to the finish."  Then congratulating another runner accepting his framed bib for completing his first marathon. 
Wow, today's race was really difficult.  I limp up to Bonnie waiting just past the finish line, she gives me a big hug, then tells me to stretch.  Yes, STRETCH!  I find a tree and lean up against it.  Oh, it feels so good to stretch.  I feel tears coming to my eyes.  Is it from pain?  No, more from the intensity of emotion from having just finished 26.2 miles, as my shoulders shake for a moment.  I'm thinking of the marathon motto, "Dream the impossible, do the incredible!"   Official time 4:48:12.  

In the next few minutes, I do quickly recover.  I start mentally kicking myself, "Why couldn't I push myself a bit harder?  I'm OK.  I'm just going to be a little sore."  I join Heather's husband Patrick and their 11-month-old son to watch the other finishers.  Patrick spots Heather and the other 5-hour pacer in the orange shirts making the turn onto Barnhart Circle, around 4:57 on the clock.   Then I see, in front of them, Lindy Liu, coming into the finish line at 4:59 on the clock!  I start yelling, "Lindy, you've done it!  You've beaten your goal!  Great job, GO GO GO!"  Lindy sprints ahead to cross the finish line.  About 30 seconds later, Heather and the other pacer cross, a few seconds ahead of 5:00:00 on the clock.  Perfect pacing on their part! 

After the race, I checked my time in the March 2017 Georgia Marathon.  Yes, I set a new personal record today, but by just 1 second!  1 second in the course of 288 minutes and 12 seconds, 17,292 seconds today vs. 17,293 seconds in March.  

Did I run miles 3 through 16 too quickly today?  I'm not sure that I did, despite "crashing" in the last quarter of the marathon.  I simply wasn't really prepared to run more than 20 miles today.  And I probably would have struggled after 3-1/2 hours on my feet, even at a slower pace, given that my body was probably feeling the number of steps more than the distance.  My speed has improved a bit this year, evidenced by the recent 10K and 10-mile personal bests this year, but I've not worked enough on my endurance.  The lesson that I take from this weekend's experience is that I can't skimp on the distance training if I'm going to continue running marathons.  I don't want to suffer like this again, I want to enjoy a strong finish in my next marathon.  And so, in preparation for the Publix Georgia Marathon in March 2018, I registered for the Atlanta Track Club training program today. 

October 22, 2017: The PNC Atlanta 10-Miler

Previous personal best: 1:28:40 (2016)
Primary goal: To get through the hills in miles 4 through 8, in good enough shape to finish strongly

Since the beginning of September, I've joined Tuesday evening group workouts with Coach Carl Leivers.  Several friends have worked with Coach Carl, with excellent results, and so I decided to dip my 10 toes into receiving some coaching.  The September workouts were tough, not only with the evening heat but I was running the first part of each workout too hard, having difficulty completely the prescribed workout.  But starting with a hill workout a few weeks ago, in which we were to run each 60 second hill repeat just a little further than the previous one, I successfully paced myself to finish the workout strongly.  In last Tuesday's workout, we ran 16 x 400 m repeats with 75 second rests between each lap.  The goal was to finish each lap in 1:55 - 2:00 minutes.  For the first five laps, I was lagging behind the rest of the group - but I was hitting each lap in the prescribed time, between 1:55 and 1:59.  As the workout progressed, my legs were feeling good, so I started pushing myself to run just a second faster with each lap, running laps 6 through 12 between 1:49 and 1:54.  Lap 15 was completed in 1:44, and then I sprinted through the final lap at 1:37.  It was a great confidence builder to gradually increase speed and to find the high gear at the end of the workout.  Thanks Coach Carl!
With Bonnie and the Polar Bear,
at World of Coca-Cola Saturday night
Unconventional race preparation:
a cup of Beverly soda in left hand,
root beer float in the right hand. 
On a less positive note, my weight is up about 5 pounds from the ideal.  I've been tracking on the Weight Watchers program, but then something trips me up - this week it was my father-in-law's birthday cake, of which I had a bit more than just a taste.  Last night Bonnie and I attended Chopstix for Charity, at the World of Coca-Cola.  It was a great program, and I ate judiciously and lightly.  That is, until the end of the evening, when the Coca-Cola tasting room opened for the final hour of the program.  My undoing was a delicious root beer float - I hadn't had such a treat in years!  I jokingly called it pre-race "carbo-loading" but could not recall reading about that kind of carbo-loading in any of the many training plans that I have studied.  Oh well.  At least we went to bed before midnight.  

As is often the case on race days, I woke up spontaneously a few minutes before the alarm sounded, which this morning was set for 4:30 am.  I dressed in my race kit, ate a healthy breakfast of oatmeal and blueberries and one cup of instant cappuccino, and stretched my legs on the foam roller.  At least I had hydrated properly throughout the day before, and had also worn compression stockings for much of the day.  

Bonnie's famous "Ass O'Clock" photo, driving to the race
We arrived at Atlantic Station around 6 am, getting a good parking spot in the garage and among the first to arrive for the Tucker Running Club photo op at 6:30 am.  The temperature was cool, in the mid-50's, and I was comfortable in the short-sleeve shirt that I had chosen for today's run.  I was initially concerned that I wouldn't have enough time to properly warm up, but with the first steps, my legs felt really good.  I was satisfied with just a bit more than a one-mile warmup, then found my way into the middle of wave B for the start.  
Tucker Running Club at 6:30 am
A moment before the official beginning of the race, Beverly Ford and Brian Minor joined me in the corral.  They were going to run the race at an easy pace, having finished the Chicago Marathon two weeks ago, just wanting to finish all of the Grand Prix races of the Atlanta Track Club.  Right before we started the race, Brian asked me what was my goal, and my response "To beat last year's personal record, 1:28:40!"  Brian promised "If you break your PR, breakfast is on me!"  Those words propelled me for the next 20,000 steps!
Brian provided positive motivation leading to a strong performance!
I crossed the starting line just under 3 minutes after the official start, and quickly settled into my plan for the beginning miles, just under a 9 min / mile pace.  Sunrise was still 25 minutes away, and although the sky was beginning to grow light, I had to watch carefully to avoid the occasional divot on the road.  On the new route, we had the east-bound three lanes of 17th Street out of Atlantic Station, encouraged by the Atlanta RollerGirls team, always one of the most enthusiastic cheer groups in this race.  I had set my watch to a 4:00 run / 0:30 walk interval, and forced myself to take the first walk break shortly before reaching the 17th Street bridge across the I-75/I-85 connector, moving into the west-bound lanes.  After we crossed the bridge, our path narrowed to just one lane of the road - and the sidewalk, which took half of the runners.  That was a bit too narrow for such a large group in the first mile of the race.  It was a relief to make the left turn onto Peachtree Road, onto which we now had all of the northbound lanes.  Mile 1 was completed in 8:57.  The next mile was gentle rolling hills, but mostly gentle downhill, crossing I-85 on the PEACHTREE bridge, and I managed to pick up a little speed.  Running buddy Myriam Fentanes passed me during one of the walk breaks, and I figured that I would catch up with her when I resumed running, so I picked up my speed a bit, finishing mile 2 in 8:20, 17:17 elapsed. 
With Rob Gee, also attending Chopstix for Charity.
Rob was a run lead for the 9:00 minute pace group
in Peachtree 10K training in 2014
About 1/4 mile before reaching the mile 2 marker, the Conquer Cardiac Hill challenge began, as we crossed a timing mat.  This was advertised as being downhill, but in fact the first section was noticeably uphill.  I resolved that I wasn't going to try to set any records heading downhill: I knew that I didn't have a chance to be one of the top 100 runners down the hill, and I didn't want to spoil the rest of my race by trying for an impossible pace.  At the two mile mark, we finally began heading downhill.  It felt like a gentle grade, and I continued taking walk breaks on occasion, either as scheduled or at water stops.  I was carrying a bottle of Nuun on my water belt but took a cup of water or Gatorade at each hydration station, resolving not to let myself get dehydrated after seeing the distress of some of the other runners in the Boston half marathon a couple of weeks ago.  I finished the Cardiac Hill challenge in 8:12, running it at consistent effort.  

We turned onto Peachtree Hills Avenue, encountering the first significant hills of the route, even before reaching the mile 3 marker in 8:35, 25:52 elapsed.  That felt a little slow to me, but I knew from last weekend's reconnaissance that the next five miles would be hilly.  I had never managed to catch up with Myriam, and lost sight of her for the rest of the race.  However, my legs were feeling good, and I was able to power up the hills at a decent pace, finishing mile 4 in 8:54, 34:46 elapsed.  I took my first of six shot blocks at this point, resolving to take one at every mile marker for the rest of the race.  Looping onto Lindbergh Drive, we turned onto Garson Drive, made a right turn onto Piedmont Road, passed under I-85, and then headed up a long hill toward Midtown Atlanta.  At the mile 5 marker, there was a timing mat, which I crossed at 43:45 elapsed on my Garmin (43:40 chip time, finishing mile 5 in 8:59).  Halfway done, I multiplied by 2 to get 1:27:30, well under the time that I would need for the free breakfast!  

Despite the length of the hill, the prospect of breakfast motivated me to run mile 6 in 8:57.  I recognized Sam Benedict ahead of me: he is one of the age 70 runners that runs about my pace.  I was delighted to pass him, but he was having a steady conversation with the runner next to him about judicial appointments, whereas I was not able to spare the breath or the intellectual energy to think about anything more than taking a shot block every mile.  By this stage, I was beginning to ignore the watch, running more by feel, stretching out the run sections in some cases to 5 - 6 minutes, walking through each water station.  The scenery was getting nicer as we approached the Botanical Gardens, even though I had to work to get up the hill at a steady pace.  Turning into the garden, a volunteer said "Not much further!"  I smiled at him, and he corrected himself "More than halfway there!"  6.4 miles elapsed, 3.6 miles to go, to be precise.  David Bloomquist passed me during a walk break in the entrance to the Botanical Garden, but I managed to catch up and pass him a moment later running downhill into Piedmont Park.  Every time I looked at my watch, my pace was slower than 9 min / mile.  The dreadful thought of losing the free breakfast encouraged me to run a little faster.  Nonetheless, I needed 9:08 for mile 7, 1:01:50 elapsed.  

Turning out of the park, there was a water station at the bottom of the 12th Street hill.  That was perfectly placed for a 30-second walk break as I sipped down a cup of Gatorade.  Returning to a run, I made good time up 12th Street.  I was nearly at the top of the intersection with Juniper before I really began to feel winded.  Although the southbound stretch on Juniper Street was mostly uphill, this was familiar ground from the Hotlanta Half and the Georgia Half Marathon.  It didn't take long to count down six blocks to the intersection with 6th Street. 

This was the highest elevation of the race!  And I was still in decent shape.  Around the intersection with Peachtree Street, we passed the mile 8 marker, 9:12 for mile 8 and 1:11:02 elapsed.  Doing a quick calculation, two 8:50 miles would likely earn me that free breakfast!  That spurred me to speed up as I made the right turn onto West Peachtree Street.  We finally had multiple lanes of the roadway, and could spread out a bit.  The only problem was that the increase in elevation at 10th Street, which I had dismissively referred to as a "speed bump" in my blog post on last weekend's race preview, was much more substantial than I had remembered.  The road seemed to loom high into the sky as we approached 10th Street.  (Apologies to any readers who were surprised after reading my previous post!)   Nevertheless I wasn't going to let the free breakfast slip away.  I pushed myself over 10th Street and then enjoyed the downhill section to the mile 9 marker, 8:37 (success for mile 9!) and 1:19:39 elapsed.  

If the finish line was exactly 1.00 miles away, then I only needed to run precisely 9:00 minutes for that last mile to break the PR, and Brian would buy breakfast.  But knowing that the mileage might be just a tad bit longer than my Garmin, I didn't risk it.  HAMMER TIME, I told myself!  Turning onto 17th Street, the overpass was a substantial increase in elevation, but breakfast was drawing me up the overpass.  At the top, a volunteer told us "That was the last hill!  The rest of the race is level!"  Fortunately having run the route last weekend, I knew that he was absolutely correct.  I was amazed to see some of the finishers walking the other way: how many people had already finished 10 miles?!  It was only when writing the blog that I realized that some of them were undoubtably 5K runners.  Further increasing my speed, I began gaining on runners ahead of me, and then passed them strongly.  I saw marathon training coach (and 2008 Olympian) Amy Begley on an ElliptiGo on the sidewalk, and I called out "Coach Amy!!"  She smiled, and I took off even faster, showing off for the coach.  I continued making progress on runners ahead of me, drawing even with a young woman in the last 100 yards of 17th Street.  She sped up to get ahead of me, but pushing myself a little faster, I caught up with her.  Making the right turn onto State Street, I pulled ahead for good.  My watch was reading 9.80 miles, but I felt that I had more than 0.20 miles to go.  I ran even faster, not wanting to miss the free breakfast just because I might have wandered a bit instead of running the tangents.  This stage of the race route was lined with spectators, as in past years.  They encouraged me to keep running as fast as I could.  Before I knew it, here was the final right turn at the Pig and the Pearl restaurant, and the finish line banner.  I put on one final sprint, passing yet another runner coming into the finish, seeing 1:30:15 on the clock.  I was delighted to cover the last mile at a sub-8 min / mile pace.  The training with Coach Carl is paying off!  
Carolyn Weber took my photo as I made the final turn, at 9.99 miles
Crossing the finish line with a few long fast strides, turning off the watch 1:27:25, I allowed myself a fairly big celebration, as I gradually slowed to a walk!  A new personal best!!  And a free breakfast!!!  Myriam also ran an outstanding race, finishing under 1:25, with a 9 minute improvement over last year's 10-miler.  
Many happy runners and personal records in today's post-race photo!
Despite the new route, which I had felt might have been hillier than in past years, several others in my circle of runners also ran personal bests today.  I realized when I downloaded the Garmin data this afternoon, I could compare total elevation gain/loss with last year's route, and get a good sense of which route was more challenging. 
2016 stats (top); 2017 stats (bottom).
Based on the elevation gain / loss record,
this year's race route was not as hilly.
Thanks Atlanta Track Club! 

After many celebratory post-race photos, Bonnie and I, Brian and Beverly, and Myriam and Roberto, headed to a restaurant about one mile away from Atlantic Station, Holler and Dash Biscuit House, on Howell Mill Road.  There was a long line, at least half of the patrons were sporting race medals and/or race shirts, but it didn't take too long to get to the counter.  Brian graciously picked up the tab for a delicious breakfast of Andouille Hustle, with andouille sausage, cheese and scallions topping a biscuit in a shallow pool of delicious sausage gravy, with a fried egg on top, hot coffee, and a basket of beignets to share for the table.  

Before leaving, Brian and I established our next breakfast bet: winner of the Jeff Galloway Half-Marathon buys!  It will be Brian's first running of the JG 13.1, so he considers it my "home course".  Fact is, Brian will likely finish that race 10 minutes before me.  Bonnie joked that "you should just give Brian the $20 now", but I hope that the bet will motivate me to try for a new half-marathon personal best.  Stay turned for December 17! 

October 15, 2017: a preview of the new Atlanta 10-Miler course

I've run the Atlanta 10-Miler for the past three years.  The route has been challenging, but it's become familiar to me.  However, for 2017 the Atlanta Track Club has announced a new route.  Instead of running up Cardiac Hill on Peachtree Street in mile 8, the new route will have us run downhill in mile 3: "Challenge yourself to Conquer Cardiac Hill by running as fast as you can down the famous hill."  I'm not sure if I will like the change.  I don't know the reason for the new route, if there was a permit problem, or if the track club simply wanted to change things up.  But the Atlanta Track Club always puts on great events, so I'm willing to keep an open mind going into race day. 

edit Oct 16: I'm told that the old route would block the only current entrance to Piedmont Hospital, due to construction along Peachtree Road.  The new route on Peachtree Road will not impede access to the hospital during the race.  Thanks to Carol Gsell for the explanation! 

As part of my long run in preparing for my next marathon in four weeks, I decided to check out the new 10-Miler route.  I hope that my advance look at the route will be helpful for any interested readers! 

You can also download the map from the race site at this link
The start: We will start once again at Atlantic Station, on State Street   However, we'll begin the race running in the opposite direction from last year's start. 

Mile 1:  The first mile looks like it will be pretty easy.  Runners will turn left from State Street onto 17th Street heading east, crossing the I-75/I-85 connector over the 17th Street bridge, crossing Spring Street and West Peachtree Street before turning left onto Peachtree Street, heading north out of Midtown Atlanta.  Enjoy the cheer group stationed at the intersection with West Peachtree Street!  There will be some increase in elevation after the turn onto Peachtree Street. 

Mile 2:  The first water stop will be shortly after crossing the "PEACHTREE" bridge over I-85.  We'll run a gentle downhill section for about 1/2 mile, then a small gentle uphill nearing Piedmont Hospital at Collier Road and the Shepherd Center.  In the Peachtree Road Race, there is always a big cheering section in front of the Shepherd Center.  A cheer group is marked on the map for this race near the mile 2 marker. 

Mile 3:  The track club advertises "Conquer Cardiac Hill" at mile 2.  That means that this section will begin at the mile 2 marker.  My Garmin measures a drop of elevation of 150 feet.  Enjoy it!  I hope to bank a little time in this mile, letting my weight carry my momentum down the hill.  A water station and a cheer group are marked on the map near the bridge crossing Peachtree Creek, at the bottom of Cardiac Hill.  We'll turn right onto Peachtree Hills Avenue.  

Mile 4:  Peachtree Hills Avenue is accurately named.  We will definitely notice the uphill sections on this road.  About halfway through this mile, there will be a short downhill section, but as the road curves to the left, we will go uphill again as we approach Lindbergh Drive.   There should be a cheer group as we turn right onto Lindbergh Drive. 

Mile 5:  Shortly after arriving on Lindbergh Drive, we'll see the Lindbergh MARTA station parking garage to our left.  We'll turn right onto Garson Drive, which is a short spur connecting to Piedmont Road.   There should be a water station near the intersection with Piedmont, onto which we will turn right.  On Piedmont Road between Peachtree Creek and I-85, there will be a succession of adult nightclubs and bookstores intermixed with automotive repair shops.  Piedmont Road will pass under the highway, past the site of a big fire that destroyed a short section of the interstate highway, snarling traffic throughout metro Atlanta for the better part of two months.  Hopefully there will be a great cheer group to take our minds off of the dreary landscape, and the hill that is rising ahead of us.  

Mile 6:  Remember how much fun it was to run down Cardiac Hill back in mile 3?  We will regain at least 100 feet of that elevation running south on Piedmont Road.  Just south of Rock Springs Road, we will pass Fat Matt's Rib Shack, one of my favorite restaurants in my life before Weight Watchers.  I haven't been there in years, so I was surprised to see that one of the two buildings of the restaurant was badly damaged by fire.  Nonetheless the restaurant is still operating in the remaining building.  Perhaps we will breathe in a few calories in the barbecue smoke, to power us up the hill.  If there is any consolation, the quality of the neighborhood will also improve as we run south, past Montgomery Ferry Drive, which is the northern entrance to Ansley Park.  I tend to carry my own nutrition on long runs, but there will be a Clif zone right before the upcoming water station, where I expect volunteers will distribute gels. 

Interlude:  After the 10-Miler, the Atlanta Track Club sends all participants a survey.  I'm sure that I gave last year's race very positive ratings, but one of the last questions asked "What can we do to improve the race experience?"  I may have written "Add more hills, LOL!"  Atlanta Track Club, LOL stands for "laughing out loud."  You need not attempt to address any comment marked LOL.  I didn't really expect you to make the route more challenging!  I guess the new hills in this year's course are my fault.  I'm sorry.  Please, don't judge me too harshly as you cover miles 4 - 8. 

Mile 7:  After crossing Monroe Drive, and two bridges over a small creek and an abandoned railroad right-of-way that is now the unpaved portion of the Eastside Beltline, we'll resume running uphill, gaining another 50 feet in elevation.  I remember how much I enjoyed running this section in the opposite direction in mile 11 of the Galloway Half-Marathon, but it's much more difficult running south.  Fortunately there will be forest to the left and million-dollar homes to your right as well as a cheer group in this section, to distract you from the challenge of running uphill.  At the Prado, we will turn left into the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.  Again, running uphill - just take in the beauty of the early fall foliage.  And after you pass the visitor center of the Botanical Gardens, you will run a long, gentle downhill along a service road connecting the Botanical Gardens with Piedmont Park.  Hurray!!  This mile will end as we run above the Active Oval, where another cheer group will be posted. 

Mile 8:  We will exit Piedmont Park at the 12th Street gate.  There should be a water stop at this gate.  Slow down and accept a cup with gratitude and a smile to the volunteers, because you will need it.  Those of you that have run mile 11 of the Hotlanta Half, or mile 23 of the Publix Georgia Marathon, know very well the steep uphill section of 12th Street from Piedmont Park to Juniper Street.  Is there any good news in this preview?  Yes, there is: after all of the other hills preceding this section, the 12th Street Hill isn't any worse.  Really!  We'll turn left onto Juniper Street, catching our breath as we enjoy a short downhill section entering Midtown Atlanta, before the elevation continues to rise all the way down to 6th Street, where a cheer group will welcome those of us still on our feet.  

Mile 9:  By this time of the race, you may be asking yourself, "When will these hills end?!" The good news is that the race is about 120 feet net downhill from this point.  Yes, YES, YES!  The important thing is to get to the mile 8 marker in good shape, so that you can enjoy the last two miles, to make a strong finish.  Turn right onto 6th Street, run three blocks past Peachtree Street and Cypress Street, then turn right onto West Peachtree Street.  The elevation will drop net 50 feet over the next 11 blocks.  There will be one small uphill crossing 10th Street, however the track club has arranged for a cheer group just south of 10th Street to encourage us over that speed bump.  After 10th Street, feel free to accelerate, if you have anything left in the tank.  

Mile 10:  The mile 9 marker will probably be around 15th Street, near the entrance to the Arts Center MARTA station.  In two short blocks, we will turn left onto 17th Street, with another cheer group at that intersection to encourage us to a strong finish.  We will be going up as we cross the beautiful 17th Street bridge crossing the I-75/I-85 connector.  That overpass was undoubtably much easier when we crossed it in the other direction, an hour or two earlier.  Just look to your left toward downtown Atlanta, or straight ahead toward the towers in Atlantic Station.  Entering Atlantic Station, you have only 1/2 mile to go, and it will be level.  I promise.  Hopefully there will be many spectators on 17th Street.  Enjoy this last stage of your race in your own style: whether you sprint to the finish, or are determined to exchange a high-five with as many spectators as possible, put on a good show, because the race is nearly over.  As the Millennium Gate appears ahead, you will turn right onto State Street.  This is similar to the finish in past years, virtually guaranteed to have many spectators cheering us into the finish.  You'll see the Target Superstore  ahead of you, and as State Street curves to the right, I expect that the finish line will soon come into view.  

edit Oct 16: The participant instructions were released today, with a detailed map of the start-finish area.  The finish line will be in the same location as in previous years, on 19th Street.  So we'll run past the curve on State Street and make a quick right turn past the Pig and the Pearl restaurant, dashing into the finish. 

Give all your remaining energy to get to the finish line, cross the timing mat, and throw your arms into the air in celebration - you've done it!  CONGRATULATIONS on finishing the Atlanta 10-Miler!!

October 14, 2017: Winship Win the Fight 5K

The Winship Win the Fight 5K is a special event for me.  It was my first running race in October 2013, after losing about 40 pounds over the previous year.  I even trained for six months for this first 5K race, guided by a couch-to-5K app to get into shape.  In the course of increasing my distances to 10Ks, 10-milers, half-marathons, and two marathons over the past year, I've been taking better care of my own health, hoping for several more healthy decades.  But in the past year, three friends have been diagnosed with cancer and have recently undergone treatment.  All three are a few years younger than me.  All three have led healthy lifestyles.  All three have long been physically active, including running.  Their experiences show that cancer can strike any one of us.  
One of these friends, Judy Tennell, is a regular runner with Tucker Running Club (TRC).  She works as a caregiver at the Center for Rehabiliative Medicine on the Emory campus.  Earlier this year, she shared with friends in TRC that she would be undergoing treatment for early stage breast cancer.  Fortunately her prognosis is good, thanks to early detection.  But even so, she had to go through radiation treatment and several procedures to remove cancerous and pre-cancerous tissue.  I've admired that Judy has remained active throughout her treatment, and she and I ran together on several Wednesday evening runs with TRC over these months.  Judy was successfully treated at the Winship Cancer Institute (WCI) in the Emory Healthcare system, and she ran this morning's race wearing a survivor's bib.  
Selfie with Judy shortly before the race
The Winship 5K is a fundraiser for the WCI, and typically has more than 3000 participants each year.  Arriving at the race about an hour before the start, I was impressed to see many participants wearing T-shirts for creatively named teams, including Cancer Crushers, To Kale with Brain Cancer, Lungs 'n Roses, to name just a few.  Judy's radiation oncologist was present as part of team EmoRayders.  I'm grateful to running friends Priscilla Hammond, Liz and Josh Mann, Brian Minor, and Carl Line for their donations to this year's fundraiser.  The fundraising site will be open for a few more weeks, if any additional readers are interested in supporting the WCI. 
Arriving on campus more than an hour before the start of the race, I warmed up with about 2 miles of running at an easy pace around part of the race route, as the volunteers gathered at their designated positions, and then I joined the rest of the participants gathering on the Emory Quadrangle, just in time to hear from this year's race marshall, Dominique Wilkins.   He was an all-star forward for the Atlanta Hawks from 1982 - 1994, and is currently vice-president of basketball operations for the Hawks.  He is a beloved goodwill ambassador in the Atlanta community.  Although his playing days with the Hawks preceded my time in Atlanta, I remember watching him on television in some all-star games from that era.  
A couple of minutes before the start
Race marshal Dominique Wilkins, in the blue shirt
3000 more participants! 
Before long, it was time to begin the race.  The temperature was 68 deg F with 88% humidity, but the cloudy sky made conditions feel quite comfortable.  I decided to take a position closer to the starting line than in past years, about 50 feet behind the lead group, hoping that I was in a group aiming for a 24 - 25 minute finish.  Dominique Wilkins was in front of the group with the starter's pistol.  At 8:30 am on the dot, the starting gun went off, and so did the runners.  I quickly got up to speed, making a left turn racing downhill toward Peavine Creek and passing the chemistry building within a couple of minutes.  Turning onto Eagle Row, I knew that the rest of the first mile would be uphill.  Near the top of the hill, I saw a few people on the sidewalk with Atlanta Track Club RUN LEAD uniforms - and then recognized TRC friends Linda Bode Phinney and Lindy Liu, who started loudly cheering for me as I raced past.  I think they were leading the marathon trainees on the 22-mile long run, as I remember running through the Emory campus on that long run when I was in the marathon training program last fall.  Mile 1 completed in 7:30. 
Familiar turf for me.
Running through campus and across Clifton Road, there was a water station in front of the WCI building.  I gratefully accepted a cup of water, and took a walk break for just a few seconds.  OK, it was probably 20 seconds.  But it really helped when I got back to speed, and I caught up to and passed a few of the people that had been running with me before the water station.  We had continued to go uphill as we turned onto Haygood Road, and with relief we finally reached the highest point of the race route.  Turning onto North Decatur Road, I picked up a little speed, but so did a couple of other guys that passed me doing what I estimated was a sub-7 min / mile pace.  After crossing Clifton Road again, the mile 2 alert sounded at 15:20 elapsed, 7:50 for mile 2. 
I was pleased to run two sub-8 minute miles, and continued running quickly through the Emory Village traffic circle, re-entering campus on Eagle Row, my usual drive-in entrance to campus.  At 2.50 miles, 19 minutes elapsed.  The winner had definitely finished by this time.  I had 1 km to go, and it was going to be uphill once again.  We were now passing the end of the walking group.  I was beginning to struggle.  Looking at my Garmin data, my pace was at least 1 min / mile slower going up the hill the second time around.  A sub-24 minute finish was likely out of the picture for today.  A few other runners were passing me.  
It took me noticeably longer to cover the same uphill stretch the second time around.
The bracket marks the 0.42 mile stretch run twice in this race. 
But I knew the route well, and kept telling myself that I could push through for the last half-mile.  Turning into the center of campus, past the construction zone for the new Student Center, the mile 3 alert sounded, 8:05 for mile 3 and 23:25 elapsed.  This also marked the beginning of a slight downhill into the finish area.  It seemed to take a while to reach the finish line - turns out the distance was 0.18 miles from the mile 3 alert.  I guess I didn't run the tangents very well!  As the finish line came into view, I saw 24:40 on the clock, and Dominique Wilkins giving high-fives to the runners in front of me as they crossed the timing mat at the finish.  As I neared the finish line, Mr. Wilkins was not looking at me - I wanted a high-five!  I might have slowed down a step or two to give him a chance to turn in my direction - and he did - and I received a high-five from the All-Star!  Then stopped my watch: 24:47, with 24:42 was my official chip time!  Despite the exertion, I managed to regain normal breathing within a few minutes, as I circled back to cheer on some of the other runners into the finish.  
Judy in the last tenth of a mile 
My Garmin stats for the race
I could tell that there weren't that many runners in front of me, and after doing a cooldown run, I returned to the Quad to chat with a few friends, and to wait for the awards announcement.  When the announcer got to the 55-59 male age group, I held my breath as he called out first place, second place, and then ... "third place, Frank McDonald."  Hurray! I was so happy to win a medal, especially in this meaningful race.   

Results were posted quickly, and were available when I first checked in the afternoon.  I was 51st to cross the finish line, although probably around 70th based on chip time.  Then I saw that fourth place in my age group was 54th place, only a few seconds behind!  I'm glad that I pushed myself as hard as I did! 

October 8, 2017: The B.A.A. Half marathon

The foam roller fits in the suitcase! 
A few days ago, Bonnie and I were discussing how nice it was that our world expanded when we married, joining each other's circle of friends, and then how it expanded even more when we started running a few years ago.  Earlier this year, two long-time friends of Bonnie, Tara and Rick, moved to Boston.  They both have strong connections to Boston, having gone to college at Boston College, and they have also run the Boston Marathon multiple times.  In fact Tara was one of the people who first got me thinking about longer distances, challenging me to try a half-marathon a few years ago.  Earlier this summer, she suggested that I enter the lottery for the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) Half Marathon.  On July 12, shortly after 10 am when the lottery registration opened, I entered my name and credit card info.  Within two or three days, I heard the good news that I had been accepted for the race!  Rick's registration was also accepted in the lottery.  So we were Boston-bound, not for the famous 26.2 race in April, but for the final event in the B.A.A. Distance Medley, which included 5K and 10K races earlier in the season.  Fortunately the half marathon coincides with a short fall break at Emory, so we wouldn't have to race back to Atlanta immediately upon completing the race. 

Packet pickup at Boston Marathon RunBase
Our direct flight from Atlanta arrived at Logan airport on Friday afternoon, and we were welcomed at Tara and Rick's new home in the Back Bay neighborhood, near the Boston Common and an easy walk to downtown Boston.  Rick suggested that we attend the runner's clinic at 6 pm at the Boston Marathon RunBase store, on Boylston Street, near the Boston Marathon finish line.  I had received my bib in the mail several weeks earlier, and hadn't planned to go.  But now I'm glad that we did, for several reasons.  Although it's a running store with all of the usual gear (shoes, clothes, gels and other running nutrition, etc.), it's also a small museum, describing the history of the B.A.A. and key events.  Shortly before the presentation began, I was looking for a seat, and saw a gentleman wearing an Atlanta Thanksgiving Half Marathon jacket.  I introduced myself, saying "It's nice to see another Atlantan running this race!"  Our new friend Tommy and I were both excited to be running in Boston.  Although the course promised some hills, as Atlantans we agreed that we're used to hills, and would manage well on the course.  Before we had left the store, Bonnie had already connected with him on FaceBook (I did the next day), and it turns out that we know a few of the same people in the running community, although I don't think that we had previously met.  
Kathrine Switzer, bib #261, was the first registered woman to complete
the Boston Marathon, 50 years ago.  Her autographed shoe is on display. 
Our new friend, Tommy from metro Atlanta

At 6 pm sharp, the clinic began.  One of the B.A.A. organizers assured us that they took Sunday's half marathon just as seriously as the more famous marathon, and promised to deliver a well-organized and enjoyable race experience.  He also shared some general advice: whatever your training has been, well, "you're ready" - because you can't do anything more in the next 36 hours to prepare!  I think that we all knew the rest of the advice given: don't try anything new on race day, don't eat a spicy or heavy dinner the night before, do go into the race with a positive but realistic attitude based on the conditions, and it was all presented with humor and encouragement.  He discussed the half marathon course: mile 1 downhill, turnarounds at mile 4.5 and mile 10, mile 12 would be uphill, run past the zoo in mile 13, and finishing on the track.  Water stations would be every two miles, with several medical stations also along the course if anyone needed assistance.  
Elite runners Katie Matthews (left) and Dathan Ritzenhein (right)
He then introduced elite runners Katie Matthews and Dathan Ritzenhein.  Katie had some good advice that I hadn't heard before, which I resolved to try out today: break the race into thirds (I've previously thought of the halves, the first six-seven miles and then the rest).  She runs the first third at an easy pace (for her, I would never been able to keep up).  The second third may be tougher, but her goal is to get into the last third in shape to finish strongly.  Dathan mentioned that it would probably be difficult to "negative split" the course, given that the last miles were net uphill, but he recommended aiming to run with consistent effort.  By the end of the clinic, I was fired up and ready to run the race!  
Watching sailboats on the Charles River
We met up with Tara and Rick immediately after the clinic, and enjoyed a nice seafood dinner Friday evening at Mooncusser restaurant - strange name but excellent food!  On Saturday morning Rick and Tara took us to a local breakfast cafe, where I ordered shakshuka, a traditional Moroccan breakfast.  I didn't expect the spicy cherry peppers  - hopefully they wouldn't cause a problem 24 hours later!  Then we walked across the Charles River to the MIT campus, where we met Bonnie's sister Sunny, who happened to be visiting friends in Boston on the same weekend.  We had gone there to watch an alumni sailing regatta, but ended up "crashing" a couple of sessions of a conference on virtual reality, held in the MIT Media Center.  Saturday evening, Tara and Rick took us for "carboloading" in the North End, a traditional hotbed of outstanding Italian cuisine.  At Ristorante Fiore, I ordered a delicious lobster ravioli dish, which was satisfying but not heavy.  Bonnie and I also shared a spinach salad, which was garnished with beets - so I selfishly took all of the beets for myself.  I even had room to indulge in a chocolate chip cannoli across the street at Caffe Paradiso!  It had been years since I had a cannoli, although it used to be a regular weekend dessert that I would pick up from an Italian restaurant, for the two years that I lived in New Haven, CT, ca. 25 years ago. 
At MIT.  Am I thinking about my research competitor? 
We had returned to Tara and Rick's home shortly after 9 pm, and almost immediately turned in for the night.  It might seem funny to be in bed before 10 pm on a Saturday night, but with a 5 am wakeup call, I was glad to get a full night of sleep.  For some reason, my dreams were dominated by a running theme.  Bonnie's alarm jolted us awake at 5:00 am, but plenty of time to eat my traditional pre-race breakfast of oatmeal with almond milk, a small bowl of blueberries for the anti-oxidants, and a banana to add a few more healthy calories. 
Sunrise at Franklin Park
The weather forecast was unexpectedly warm for mid-October in Boston, 70 deg F at the start, plus a chance of rain after 9 am.  I decided to wear a Peachtree Road Race singlet that I had brought, just in case it was warm.  I resolved that I would need to run a little more conservatively than I had started in Atlanta last weekend, when it was 55 deg F at the start, so I would aim for a pace between 9:00 and 9:30 min / mile for the first few miles, with a run / walk interval of 3:30 / 0:30.  We left Tara and Rick's home around 6:15 am.  By the time we reached Franklin Park where the race would start and finish, the sun had risen.  There were only some wispy clouds overhead, although it seemed that it might be cloudy in the distance, but I was glad to have brought sunglasses and a cap.  The temperature was pleasant and there was a breeze keeping things nice, even a little too cool as I was not wearing sleeves, but I imagined that I would be plenty warm once we began running. 
With Rick, a k a Coggy, an hour before the race
I managed to jog for about a mile around the field, and got into the porta-potty line at just the right time: a line that was about 8 people long had multiplied to at least 50 people long when I had finished.  During one last jog, I ran into Tommy who was doing his warmup as well.  He introduced me to his wife, Stephanie, who was cheering him on today.  The organizers encouraged us to begin lining up in the corrals after 7:30 am, even though the race didn't begin until 8:00 am.  I lined up near the 9:00 min / mile pace sign, and was glad that I was there early, as the corral began to fill.  Around 7:50 am, the National Anthem was played, and the crowd noise immediately fell silent.  A man holding the US flag was standing just in front of me and to my left, and it was obvious that he was planning to run the entire race with the flag.  It was special to hear the National Anthem in Boston, reflecting on the first battles of the American Revolution near Boston, 242 years ago.   

Then it was time for the race to begin: first the wheelchair racers at 8:00 am, followed a few minutes later by the airhorn sending off the elite runners.  Our wave was held up for a moment, and then we began to move forward toward the starting line.  In fact we were even jogging for the last 100 yards before crossing the timing mat.  As we had planned, Bonnie was stationed on the right shortly after the start, simultaneously taking still photos and video as we passed.  Although there were many runners around me (9000 runners were registered through the lottery, plus elites and fundraisers for the Dana Farber Cancer Center), everyone around me was moving at a reasonable pace.  The first mile was indeed downhill, and I debated whether I should try to speed up to take advantage of the hill - and bank a little time, or just stick with my original plan of a 9 minute mile.  My better judgment won out, and I finished the first mile in 9:05.  In fact my Garmin was sounding before I reached each mile marker, and the distance grew a bit more with each passing mile, but it was probably from weaving from the middle to the right side as each walk break approached.  
Course map

The run / walk strategy was working well for me.  Almost no one else was taking walk breaks (the Galloway method is more popular in Atlanta, home of Jeff Galloway) so I was careful to signal each break with my hand in the air, and moving well to the right, even onto the grass or the sidewalk.  But I would regain position quickly upon returning to the run.  As we left the park, we were running along the picturesque "Emerald Necklace" designed over a century ago by the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted: most famous for Central Park in New York City, although he also designed Piedmont Park in Atlanta.  Around 3 miles in, we entered a more urban area on the right side, facing the park.  And shortly before seeing the mile 4 marker, we saw the faster runners on our left returning from the first out-and-back section.  I was looking for Tommy and Rick, both considerably faster than me, and during a walk break I happened to spot Rick on the far side of the road heading the other direction.  Rick's nickname growing up was "Coggy", a play on his middle name.  As an adult he goes by Rick at work, but still uses Coggy as his nom de sport.  I shouted loudly "Go COGGY!" and waved as he turned his head in my direction.  

It took a long time to get to the turnaround (about 4.7 miles in), but after turning it didn't take long at all to reach the 5 mile marker.  By this stage, my watch was sounding mile alerts more than 20 seconds ahead of the actual marker, but I reached the mile 5 timing mat at 45:53, right on target for a 9:11 min / mile pace.  I was feeling good, feeling strong, not tired at all.  I kept up with the man carrying the flag for at least 5 miles, then pulled ahead and stayed in front for the rest of the race, although he wasn't too far behind on the out-and-back sections.  Shortly before reaching the mile 6 marker, we split off to the right, passing by a small lake.  I passed the 10K marker around 57 minutes elapsed, probably just about right for a 2-hour finish in a 21.1K race.  In this part of the race, we encountered some uphill sections, but I powered up most of them quite strongly, except if I happened to be in a walk break.  This was one of the nicest parts of the race in terms of park scenery.  But I began to feel a little tired in miles 8 and 9.  I was still running around a 9:10 min / mile pace, but I felt that I was about a minute (or more) behind where I had been in last week's race.  The mile 9 marker was at the spot where we had left the park in the first mile, which I reached around 1:22.  On my watch, I had finished nine miles at 1:21:23, but the mile 9 marker wasn't even in sight until well after the alert had sounded.  

Mile 10 was where the race began to get tough for me, the beginning of that last third of the race!  This was the start of the second out-and-back, and I hoped to pick up a bit more speed here. But the route was hilly, more uphill than downhill.  I took a walk break right before crossing the mile 10 timing mat, 1:32:30.  2-1/2 minutes slower than I had hoped, and I had run mile 10 in 9:30 according to the watch (and was probably a few seconds slower than that in reality).  I hit the lap counter on my watch at that point, hoping that the watch would line up better with the subsequent miles.  The turn-around was immediately after the timing mat, and so I was expecting more downhill than uphill on the return.  Somehow that didn't seem to happen for me!  Nonetheless I did manage to speed up a bit, passing a fair number of other runners, finishing mile 11 in 8:59 according to the Garmin. 

1:42 elapsed, 2.1 miles to go.  Surely I could run the rest of the race at an 8:30 min / mile pace, that would get me in around 2:00 even.  But mile 12 was the toughest mile of the race, going uphill along much of the same path that we had run so easily downhill in the first mile.  To make things more challenging, we were running directly into a headwind.  And then, it began to rain!  On the right shoulder, a runner was sitting on the side of the road, with a couple of medical personnel talking to her.  I wondered what had happened, but kept pushing as best as I could up the hill.  The rain ended after a few minutes.  I was a little disappointed to finish mile 12 in 10:26, especially because I had known ahead of time that mile would be uphill.  But that was the best that I could run that hill today.  
Run-walk strategy worked well for 11 miles, then struggled through mile 12,
before picking up the pace again in the 13th mile, finishing strongly on the track. 
Mile 12: What time is it?  HAMMER TIME, I said!  1:52 on the watch, 1.11 miles to go to the finish.  I reminded myself, I have run a 7 minute mile, therefor I can still finish in 2 hours.  But while the mind was willing, the legs were weak, after 12 miles elapsed.  Although the route had leveled out, although I was pushing myself, the watch stubbornly insisted that I was only moving at a 9:15 min / mile pace.  We were passing through the Franklin Park Zoo, and I saw a sign for giraffes - my favorite zoo animal, from a fond early childhood memory.  The 20K sign appeared, 1.1K to go, about 0.7 miles.  I accepted that 2 hours was now out of reach.  But it seemed that more runners were now passing me even when I was running.  Now my goal was 2:02, that seemed doable.  I also remembered that my best time in the Publix Georgia Half Marathon was 2:02, and told myself that I was still running fairly well, I certainly had not "bonked."  We turned onto the road where we had begun the race an hour and 57 minutes earlier.  Was the finish line more than 3 minutes away?  I saw a sign, "800 meters to the finish".  That didn't seem far at all, until I remembered that 800 meters is almost 1/2 mile.  OK, I've never run 1/2 mile in 3 minutes.  Just keep pushing, pushing.  That field was a lot longer than I had remembered, and it took a few minutes to get to the outside of the stadium.  

At that moment, a young woman crossed in front of me in tears, then seemed to fall into the arms of a red-jacketed medic on the left side of the road.  I felt so badly for her, to be so close to the finish line and having to stop.  I don't know what happened, perhaps a leg or foot injury?  Dehydration?  But I kept on running, finally seeing the entrance to the stadium, where the long-awaited mile 13 sign welcomed us! 

Entering the stadium, I could see the finish line to my right, which would be about 170 yards away, running clockwise.  I settled into lane 2, was immediately passed on my right by a young woman in lane 1.  Then a young man zipped by in lane 8!  Showoff!!  As I turned onto the straightaway, I saw a timing strip 100 feet before the finish line, and heard my name called after I crossed.  I held up my hands to acknowledge the announcement, and put on a burst of speed into the finish, passing one runner who was moving fairly slowly.  2:02:21!  
Screen shot from Bonnie's video of my finish
Whew, that was a tough run - but half-marathon #17 done!  After presenting us with our medals, and an opportunity to get a bottle of water and a banana, finishers were guided out of the stadium into the field where we had originally gathered.  I took a few minutes to stretch using the fence for support, that helped a lot.  There were two tents: the first offered donuts and bagels, and then the second offered hamburgers, can you believe it?  I wasn't sure if I could eat a hamburger immediately after running 13.1 miles, but guess what?  I was up to that challenge.  Then I caught up with Rick, Tara, and Bonnie - they were amazed to see me holding half a burger!  Rick ran an outstanding race, finishing in 1:45 and speeding up slightly as the miles ticked by, a negative split performance, even with the uphill sections in the final three miles! 

Post-race celebration was a lobster roll at James Hook's Lobster Shack near the seaport, and large coffees at the Intercontinental Hotel, where I was able to change into dry clothes for the ride to Tara and Rick's home. 

That was a lot of fun today.  The race was well-organized and very well staffed with volunteers.  I ran 11 excellent miles, one tough mile, and one satisfactory mile with a strong finish.  Of those races on a certified course, I believe that today's run was my 4th fastest half marathon.  I will have to check carefully, but it may be my best half-marathon in 70 degree temperatures.  
Official result! Pace through mile 5, 9:10 min / mile;
Pace through mile 10, 9:15 min / mile;
Overall pace, 9:19 min / mile.