I got into Atlanta Wednesday around 5 PM, and when I ventured out of the airport, I was a bit surprised – my black peacoat that I had felt silly wearing from New York was definitely needed. I renamed the city “Coldlanta“, and began to worry about my race apparel. The forecast said 63 degrees, so I figured I’d be fine.
I got my car and headed for the expo at the Intercontinental. Nice hotel, but boy, did they ever try to rip you off! The parking garage was $5, and there didn’t seem to be any street or free parking in the area. I pointed out to the attendant that I would only be there for about 10 minutes – I just wanted to pick up my packet and get to my cousin’s house – but no dice. I sucked it up and paid the $5, figuring since I had to pay I might as well spend some time at the expo to make it worth my while. Sneaky strategy on both the part of the hotel and the race organizers!
The packet pickup was extremely well organized, with knowledgeable volunteers directing me very clearly where to go. The t-shirt in particular was pretty nice – a Brooks technical long sleeved shirt. Score! After finishing pickup, I headed into the expo to see what kind of free food I could score. There didn’t seem to be any of the usual drink samples or bar samples. However, Starbucks was there offering up samples of their new “Perfect Oatmeal”! I grabbed a cup, tossed in some dried fruit and nuts, and went at it – not bad. I wouldn’t necessarily head to Starbucks to pay $4 or whatever for a cup of oatmeal, but if I’m traveling and hungry, it’s a good choice.
Turning from the Starbucks booth, I saw… Bart Yasso promoting My Life on the Run! How amazing is it when you can be reading a book and getting inspiration and then just a few hours later, you unexpectedly get to meet the author and discuss?! SO cool! Bart was extremely nice and friendly, and very supportive of my goals. I left the expo feeling pretty awesome, and surprisingly psyched for the race the next morning.
At my cousins’ house, I relaxed for a bit and ate some yummy beef stroganoff they had saved from dinner. It was odd to be eating beef – I don’t think I’ve had red meat in a few months now! I hoped it wouldn’t cause me any GI problems during the race, but was very grateful for the egg noodles with it. I finally got to bed around 9 PM… a bit later than I would have liked, but not terrible.
Getting up the next morning was pretty bad though. My alarm went off at 5:30 and I was extremely tempted to shut it off, go back to sleep, and just enjoy Thanksgiving without the marathon. Having come all the way down to Atlanta to run it though, I knew that wasn’t really an option, so I dragged myself up and got myself together. Feeling a bit chilly even in the guest bedroom, I glanced at the hourly weather report to discover that it was only 32 degrees out! It then occurred to me that a HIGH of 63 did not mean it would be 63 degrees when I started running in the early morning. I toyed with the idea of wearing the sweatpants I had brought, and the long sleeved technical shirt I had been given, but I remembered from past races that the pants made me look really heavy in my race photos, and I didn’t want to commit the ultimate faux pas of wearing the race shirt before completing the race, so I opted for fashion over function and stuck with my skirt and tank top. For reference, this is the same exact outfit I wore for the 80 degree San Francisco marathon in August. Clearly my outfit designing skills are a little lacking…
I drove to the start, and found it easy to park in the large lots at Turner Field. I parked completely crooked, but the space next to me had a light pole in it, so I figured no one would be trying to park there anyway and it was fine. After the race, I realized I had no idea where I parked or what my rental car looked like, and because it was an older car I didn’t have one of those buttons to press that would set the alarm or the lights off. I just looked for the silver sedan that was parked crooked! Worked like a charm :)
I debated staying in my car to be warm, but there were only 40 minutes until the start, and I decided it would be better to get the lay of the land. I threw on my sweatshirt and sweatpants just until bag drop, and was still freezing. Uh oh! I wound my way past the start and the finish (if only it were that easy to do it for real!) and saw a tent that everyone seemed to be converging upon. Sure enough, it was the bag drop and volunteer check-in. However, the real reason everyone was swarming that tent was that it was heated! I joined the huddled masses, and talked to a few people: some first-timers, some Ironmen who were doing their first “marathon only race”, and some crazy 50 state hopefuls like myself. Next to the bag drop, they were giving away coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts – a nice idea in theory, but neither donuts nor coffee will make you run a good race! At the volunteer check in, they were giving away really nice Atlanta Marathon sweatshirts and gloves, and a lot of racers were taking the gloves, but when I headed over, the volunteer took that moment to notice and tell me that the gloves were for the volunteers only, and that the racers would given our own gloves at the finish. Gloves at the finish aren’t too helpful! Still, I abided by the rules, even though I saw plenty of others reaching in and grabbing a pair when her back was turned. It turns out that honesty doesn’t pay – at the finish, I saw no sign of gloves, so it looks like I missed out. I was still glad that I hadn’t stolen a pair that I wasn’t supposed to have. Unfortunately, there were no donuts either – made me wish I had (legally) taken a Krispy Kreme and somehow wrapped it and put it in my bag for later.
With about 15 minutes before the starting gun, I stripped off my extra clothes and replaced them by wrapping my Tulsa space blanket around myself. I left my stuff at bag drop and headed out into the cold before I could change my mind and beg for mercy. And boy was it cold! My hands and legs were pretty numb within a few minutes, but I consoled myself that I’d warm up once I started running. I tried to get into the middle of the pack for warmth, but found myself kind of to one side. I didn’t hear any starting announcements or National Anthem, but the pack started moving forward. I assumed it was the typical “we’re getting ready to start so everyone press closer to the starting line,” but then I saw people running and I realized the race had begun! I frantically punched at my Garmin, which fortunately picked up the satellites pretty quickly and started only a second or two after crossing the timing mat.
The race began by sending us under the 1996 Olympic Gate, which was pretty cool. We then headed through some downtown areas that took us over rolling hills. These didn’t hit me too hard, but I knew from looking at the course elevation profile that the real trouble would start with a steady uphill from mile 21 to the finish. I didn’t really have a goal time, but hoped to finish around 4:15, which I’ve found to be a pretty average time that I can usually achieve.
Running didn’t warm me up as much as I had thought, and while I usually toss my space blanket somewhere in the first mile, I kept it until the water station at mile 3. Until then, I had it wrapped around me tightly, and I discovered that I could even wrap my hands in it and keep them warm without gloves! A useful trick for future races. By mile 3, I was already experiencing the “are we there yet” syndrome, so to combat that, I tried to avoid looking at my Garmin to check the distance. I looked at it only to check my average pace at each mile, and in the first few miles, I was around 8:45 on the flatter segments and 9:00 on the uphills. A 9:09 pace would give me a 4:00 marathon, but having been exhausted for the last few weeks, I didn’t even try to set that as a goal, as I figured my pace would drop.
Around mile 4, I met another Maniac – she had a number even higher than mine (meaning she had joined after me), but she said she had actually qualified five years ago and had only recently found out about the organization to join. Throughout the race, I kept getting approached by people who would ask my Maniac number – some were already Maniacs, and others hoped to join, but it was cool to see such awareness.
Around mile 6, I started feeling really tired. At mile 7.5, there was a Sports Bean aid station, and I gratefully took the orange candies and tried to eat them as fast as possible. They were somewhat frozen due to the cold, though, and unfortunately the water station was just a few feet beyond the jelly bean table. That’s something that always drives me nuts in a race – if you’re going to give out gels/fuel, give it out maybe 1/5 mile before the next drink station so that I have time to eat it before getting a drink to rinse out my mouth. They did this properly at the other Sports Bean station at mile 20, but at mile 7.5, I ended up walking for a good stretch so I could eat the beans and then drink the water I carried from the aid station. The good news was, this was a pretty solid uphill, so I was happy for an excuse for a walk break!
We turned onto Peachtree Street, and I soon recognized some of the sights going by – this was the way I had driven to get from the airport to the expo the night before. It was fairly flat until we got through Buckhead, and then we hit some rolling hills again. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the “rolling hills” were truly “rolling hills” and not “kill-yourself-mountains.” It seems like race directors always try to bill their courses as being much easier than they are, but this description was very accurate. I’ve done courses billed as “flat and fast” that were similar to this!
Peachtree Street was an out-and-back section, so we got to see the leaders returning. When the first male ran by, there were no pace cars or any kind of hullabaloo, and none of the runners around me cheered or anything, so I thought maybe I was mistaken and he was just a really slow half-marathoner who was now picking up the pace. (The half-marathoners started 30 minutes before we did, and started at the halfway point in the full marathon course). However, when I saw some other guys a bit later, I realized that I had seen the winner go by. Around my mile 11.5, I saw the first female pass, and I did cheer for her.
Interestingly, on the Atlanta news that night, they did a short segment on the marathon, and they interviewed and showed the men’s winner of the half-marathon finishing, billing him as the “race winner” – but no mention of either the female half-marathon winner or either of the full marathon winners. I always think it’s funny how little non-runners know about marathons! On that note, the roads we ran on were pretty major roads, and while the organizers did a good job marking off two lanes on the four lane road for the runners, drivers were clearly frustrated by the race. It wasn’t like running New York or Boston or a small-town race, where everyone knows about the race and plans for delays. In Atlanta, it seemed that the only people who knew about it were the 1000 runners and their families – hardly a dent in the Atlanta population. Police officers were stationed at every single intersection, and were truly phenomenal in directing traffic so as not to mess up the race (probably the best I’ve seen in any marathon), but there were still lines of cars at many cross-streets as drivers waited to turn. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be driving and come upon a race unawares, but let’s face it – if there’s a race in whatever city I’m in, chances are I’m running in it!
The turnaround was around mile 12.9, and it was here that I found one of the most disheartening points of the course. You get to mile 12.8, and then run down a steep hill, turn around a set of cones, and run back up! It seemed to me that for that short 1/10 mile stretch, the organizers could have turned us onto a flat side street, or even just started the entire race 1/10 mile earlier. Fortunately, right as I hit the bottom, one of my favorite running songs came on: “Life is a Highway”, as sung by Rascal Flatts. The beat spurred me upward, and I sang to myself as I went: “if life is a highway, I’m going to RUN it all night long.” Soon enough I was at the halfway point, and I wolfed down a LaraBar and found my split to be 2:03. Not good enough for a 4:00 marathon, considering I always run highly positive splits and I knew the second half of the course was tougher than the first, but I didn’t have anything to worry about.
After crossing the halfway point, my mood lightened and my tiredness melted away. Now don’t get me wrong – I certainly wasn’t flying through the course, and my mile splits were slower than the first half. But each mile came so much easier knowing that I was more than halfway done. The sun had started to come out and my legs were no longer numb when I reached down to adjust my shorts under my running skirt. The only thing bothering me was my middle toe on my right foot.
(Warning: skip this section if you get easily grossed out by runner foot talk). The nails on my right foot have looked kind of gross for a few weeks now. My pinky toe is black from accidentally stubbing my toe on my suitcase after the Tulsa Marathon (first black toenail, and it’s not even from actually running! Go figure). However, my second and fourth toenails are a teeny bit yellow, and my third toenail is white, very tiny (I’ve been trimming it and it seems to be starting to detach from the toe underneath, so now it’s a bit short), and raised like it’s about to fall off. While it would be kind of exciting to have my first lost toenail, I would prefer that it not happen until after my Hawaii vacation where I’ll be in flip flops and running around in the sand! Around mile 14, I pulled off to the side of the road and sat down on the curb to check on it. My toenail didn’t look any different than it had that morning, and it wasn’t falling off, but I pulled a bandaid out of my dorky fuel belt and wrapped it around the toe before starting to run again. A few miles later, the bandaid was bothering me more than the toe, so I again took to the curb, this time to take off the bandaid! There’s two minutes lost for no reason.
By mile 17, I started feeling really great. It’s always great to know that you’re into single digit miles to go, and I had a little countdown system going: all I had to do was get to mile 20, and then I would not only get more yummy fuel, but I was also into the 20 mile range! (If you’ve done a marathon, you know what a thrill that milestone is). Those last three miles passed by pretty quickly, and at mile 20, I was in an even better mood than before.
At mile 16, my left foot started hurting. It had been a teeny bit sore throughout the race, but then it gradually got worse. It was a dull pain that radiated through my instep and reminded me of when I had fractured my foot as a child. I figured that if I broke my foot I wouldn’t be able to run a marathon, but then I thought of Frayed Laces, who ran the Honolulu Marathon with a fractured pelvis. And I remembered my high tolerance for pain and how the first time I had broken my foot, it was on the way to a dance rehearsal, and I had danced on pointe on it for two hours before taking a break. I iced it on the break, and only realized something was really wrong when it had turned purple and I was unable to put weight on it. Well, I thought to myself, I only had ten miles to go, and I didn’t come to Atlanta to quit!
Speaking of quitting, I think I’m going to get a new Road ID for 2009. My current one still has my old address in Albany, and while I love the quote I put on it (“Dream of high goals and live by exceeding them,”), I think I’d like to retire that bit of inspiration and add something new. Specifically, I’d like to add instructions to race officials. If something ever goes wrong in a race and I end up down for the count, I want it made clear that they are not to take me off the course or to a medical tent without my explicit permission. If I can walk or crawl, I am finishing what I started! The best thing they could do for me would be to escort me the rest of the way to the finish. Now I just need to figure out how to get that into the two short lines I have free on my Road ID…
You always get some people who get tired and walk by mile 18 or 19. Now, I usually run the first half a bit faster than I did in Atlanta, so maybe it was that I was in with a different crowd, but I still thought the Atlanta Marathon had way more than I’d ever seen before. Around mile 16, most people around me were walking, and by mile 20, it was a mix of 80% walkers to 20% runners. I kept up a steady jog, only walking through water stations and up one hill, but passed a ton of people. From mile 20 to 26, I’d bet that only two people passed me (not counting those who passed me and then stopped to walk ten seconds later, allowing me to overtake them again)!
At mile 24.5, a great song came on my iPod that made me think of Boyfriend. I looked up and saw my firm’s logo – I was passing our Atlanta office! Then just a few feet further, we turned a corner and hit a short downhill. The song was Rascal Flatts‘ “Secret Smile,” and the lyrics were “You make the sun shine down/You take every cloud and turn it into rainbows,” and right as the chorus hit, the downhill flattened out and we turned onto a bridge where the sun did in fact start shining down on me. At that point, it just seemed like everything was going my way, and I was thrilled with what I was doing. It wasn’t so easy that I wondered why I had questioned it, by any means, but I was happy to be there and be running.
At mile 25, we turned a corner and found another set of hills, including what was arguably the worst uphill of the course. Seriously? You put that in mile 25? I powered up most of the hill as I listened to Rascal Flatt’s “Where You Are,” only stopping to walk for the last bit of it, when I realized I’d spend less energy but get the same speed if I powerwalked. “I’m a thirsty man/Let me drink you in/I am on my way/You’re a mountaintop/When I reach for you/Your love lifts me up/All that I want is to be/Where you are.” I crested the hill and we headed down a really nice downhill where I picked up some speed before one last uphill to the finish – this one wasn’t too bad though. “Gimme More” by Britney Spears came on my iPod (see, my whole playlist wasn’t Rascal Flatts – those were just the few songs I’ve called out in this post), and I realized that I did have more in me. I wasn’t completely dead!
As I headed up the hill, I started passing two guys running together. Apparently I had met one of them earlier (I talked to a lot of people at the start and on the course, and while I remembered all the conversations, I never really get a good look at other people while I’m running, so I wasn’t entirely sure when I had met him), because as I passed, I heard him tell his friend that I was trying to become the youngest female fifty stater. Instead of passing them, I ran with them for a few yards – the hill was making it a bit tricky to get any real speed anyway, and I’m more about meeting interesting people than getting a good time. We approached the 26 mile marker, and I veered off to kiss the sign before picking up the pace (something that’s become tradition for me). The two of them also started running to match me, and then the guy I had talked to earlier said, “you ready for a photo finish?” He then kicked up the pace to a dead sprint, and while I tried to match him, it seemed impossible. I heard the announcer call our names as we approached the finish, and all of a sudden, with my legs on fire, I sprinted past him to cross the finish line several feet in front of him! Photo finish – yeah right :)
To further prove that point, I suddenly heard someone yelling “Laura! Laura!” and looked right to see my cousin, camera in hand and daughter in tow. They had come to see me finish, and had snapped a photo of me crossing the line!
I was so excited – it’s a rare treat for me to have someone I know at the finish line. Mike and Ellie congratulated me and snapped another picture of me with my medal, and headed off to finish the Thanksgiving preparations.
I collected my stuff from bag drop and slipped into my flip flops, pleased to see that my toenail was still intact and didn’t look any worse for the wear. My feet hurt a decent amount, especially my left foot, but I was walking around with a much more even gait than any of my fellow finishers. I hit up the food tent, but opted to just have a banana and save room for the Thanksgiving feast to come. However, I did throw a few mini Lara Bars into my bag to be fuel for future races :)
Next up – Honolulu! I don’t think the cold will be as much of a problem there, and I think I might be totally costume-y and unoriginal and wear a lei as I run. And after the race, it’s three days of lying on the beach and doing whatever the doctor says I have to do to kick this exhaustion. I can’t wait!!
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 436/730
Gender place: 86/178
Age group place: 13/23