Atlanta Marathon Race Report

Simply put, I love the Atlanta Marathon.

About the Atlanta Marathon

The Atlanta Marathon is held every year on Thanksgiving Day. Being that the race is run early morning, on a holiday, it tends to be very low-key. The traffic isn’t even detoured. Instead, the Atlanta Track Club places orange cones along the road and runners simply squeeze into the right lane. It’s not uncommon for there to be a couple of near miss runner vs. vehicle mishaps which only adds to the race experience. There are almost no yelling crowds, no fan support, and no media; but in contrast, the race organizers are very diligent with runner aid and aid stations are well-stocked and plentiful.

Preparing to Run in the Rain

This year was a wet year. A few days out, I knew it was going to rain, but planned NOT to prepare any differently. If I got wet, I got wet, but I was not going to lug around excessive gear or worry too much about it. This proved to be the right strategy for me.

Like clockwork, the rain began just as the race officials were saying, “go”. Luckily, the first stint of rain was short, but since it was rather warm outside, the small amount rain just made it humid. I cursed myself for wearing sleeves and removed the long sleeve wicking shirt from under my short sleeve one.

This is where I met “Indiana”. Indiana was from, you guessed it, Indiana, and he was in town just for this marathon and had no idea what to expect with regards to the course, weather etc… Indiana passed me shortly after a brief conversation but I would see Indiana many times throughout the day, and I believe there was some kindred reasoning for our meeting. I’ll elaborate on that in a moment.

My first mile clocked in at 9:36 and I kept this general pace pretty much throughout the first half of the race. My goal was to simply break five hours and log a marathon PR. Both of my previous marathons were 5:13 and 5:03 respectively, and I desperately wanted to show some improvement.

After the first half of the race, I felt good, but I starting to get heavy legs. Three weeks ago, I attempted the Mountain Masochist 50-mile Trail Race in Virginia, and I probably did not rest enough before jumping right into this marathon; but, I wasn’t going to let that mental negativity get in the way …I was halfway home.

Running from the Five Hour Marathon Stigma

Around mile 17, I met Holly. She captured my attention with a sign on her back that read, “26.2 just because you said I couldn’t” — I had to ask her what that meant.

Apparently an “ex” had told her that she “couldn’t run a marathon”, and by her tone and general disgust, I got the feeling that this ex was responsible for a lot of self-defeat and self-esteem issues within Holly. I felt sad for her, but immediately offered to run with her for awhile to keep her company and get her to the finish. I knew I could keep her spirits up, and as an ultrarunner, I knew how much that tiny element can help someone finish an endurance challenge.

We met up with yet another girl and I sort of backed off, letting the “chatty Cathys” do their thing, but stayed around for moral support and to push Holly when she would try to stop or cry again.

Unfortunately, around mile 22, at cardiac hill, I pulled ahead and when I looked back, I no longer could see Holly and the other female runner. Holly, if you’re out there, I hope you finished.

Update: there is a Holly Kent in the results finishing at 4:51. …I sure hope it was her…

At mile 23, I was dying to know the time, but scared that if I found out I was not on pace for a sub-five hour marathon, I might just loaf it on in, so I never asked for the time and just ran blindly.

Right after mile 24, as I was approaching the downtown area near the Hard Rock restaurant, who do I see? Good ol’ Indiana …but he’s walking.

“Indiana! get moving!”, I yelled.

“Man, I’m about done.”, he said.

“Come on, Indiana, we are going to finish this race and finish it strong.”, I pushed.

Reluctantly, he started running again just as I pulled up next to him, and we ran together, mostly silent, through mile 25 and crossing the finish line. As we neared the finish, we shook hands, athlete style, and then took off to shave off those last few seconds and look strong for the cameras.

Race finishes like that are always special and true to endurance challenge form.

I finished the race in 4:41:40; thus, finally breaking the five-hour marathon stigma, and setting my sites on faster marathons in the future.

The Atlanta Marathon is the best. The course takes runners through the heart of the city – Turner Field, Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, Brookhaven and the entire Peachtree Road corridor. The volunteers and race organization are both top notch. The aid stations are well-manned and the aid station workers are very supportive.

Some say this race is not a good race for first-timers due to the hills and lack of fan support due to the holiday. I disagree, and not because the Atlanta Marathon was my first in 2006, but because this race is special. If your idea of the perfect marathon is plenty of swag, big crowds and massive media, then yea – maybe Atlanta Marathon isn’t the best first-time race – but, if you are interested in running a marathon with a challenging course and a race against yourself, then the Atlanta is a very good choice.

Next up, Mountain Mist 50K in Huntsville, AL.

Mountain Masochist Race Report

Mountain Masochist 2007 results

A Heaping Helping of Humility 

I got the sad-face and pouting out of my system by Sunday evening.

Time to shed the angry little kid feelings for a more mature approach at learning from my mistakes.

Hopefully, what I share about my experience can be helpful for others, as well as myself, for the 2008 Mountain Masochist, or any other 50-miler.

We set off at 6:30 a.m., into the dark, for the road portion of MMTR. The weather was PERFECT running weather, albeit a bit windy at different times throughout the day. I started out nice and slow, running 9-10 minute miles, enjoying the surrounding mountains, farm houses and rolling hills. I’m not sure how far the road portion is, some say 5 miles, some say 7, and I have no real idea, but for roads, it’s at least very beautiful. The passing semis are a little daunting, but it’s a short stint on those mountain roads, and before long, we were turning into the much-welcomed trails.

This is when I realized my first mistake. I was wearing New Balance 800s. A low-profile trail shoe that is a step up in cushioning from the NB 790 trail flat, but still, for me, a more aggressive, low-profiler than I should have used. Over the last few weeks I have been all excited about discovering lower-profile, lighter trail shoes, and have been praising the discovery over and over again …especially when relating the discovery to less foot pain.

Problem is, I do not believe I have sufficient mileage and experience in ‘lesser shoes’ to expect to manage a 50-miler with such minimalism. Why I did this, I’m still not quite sure. Lack of experience. Stupid. Hopeful. …who knows…

The first half of MMTR, not counting the initial single-track climb after the roads, is like running up and down someone’s wide, gravel driveway. That’s not a complaint, as I enjoy challenges of all variety, regardless of the difficulty, but I just wasn’t prepared, and certainly, was not running in the correct shoes. I could really feel the golf-ball+ sized rocks and coupled with the poor footing, my feet were getting beat to death …which also equated to a similar beating further up my legs and hips. While I still strongly believe running in a less-cushioned shoe is beneficial for me longterm, I was not adequately trained to run in this type shoe for this combination of distance and terrain.

Miles 1-20 felt great. I met new people, was running strong, enjoying the mountain vistas and having a solid race. — but at miles 20-26, the foot pain, along with the other associated and related body aches, were beginning to take a toll rapidly. I made the cut-off at the halfway point by about 10 minutes; however, I was completely spent – everything hurt.

I changed shoes and got a Clip II bottle out of my bag. I was happy for both the extra cushioning, as well as the Clip. I love Clip. Conquest? …not so much, but it was better than I expected.

I left the aid station and headed up the infamous Buck Mountain, but I was in terrible shape from those other shoes earlier in the race. Momentarily defeated, I found a patch of sunshine in the first 500 feet of the climb, and just laid down, face in the sun, eyes closed, wondering what to do.

This is when I met Tom, from Baltimore. Tom came upon me and asked if I was alright. After explaining that I was rapidly fading, he suggested I get up and just walk with him up Buck Mountain. I remember him mumbling about how people can completely bottom-out but if one just stays with it, things will turn around. …and I remember thinking, “yea, …or you die.”

I was really moving slowly and I asked Tom to continue ahead and not to worry about me. I didn’t want to drag anyone down. Off he went, and about halfway up, I no longer could see him …but I could hear that famous Buck Mountain summit music. For what felt like miles, I heard that music, to the point that I resigned to just not care – and then by the time I conditioned myself to ignore it, I could see the aid station and make out the Rocky theme blaring over the speakers.

After Buck Mountain, I came into the 32.1 mile aid station 4 minutes over cut-off. They asked me, and really sort of encouraged me, to drop and I almost did, but at the last second, as they were writing some stuff about my number, I asked if I could go on – I thanked volunteer Matt for letting me keep going, and I headed up a nasty, limestone gravel hill to the infamous “loop”.

All of a sudden, I’m coming back to life.

When I got to the loop, I was a still a little behind, but was given the opportunity to try to complete the loop’s 5.5 miles, 7 miles …whatever it truly is, in about 50 minutes. I really poured it on in that loop, as much as one can “pour it on” during that section, and gave it my all. I passed two runners in the loop, one of them being Tom who saved me at Buck Mountain. I really thought I was going to make up the time and resume my race.

Instead, I came up short coming out of that loop. I was simply too many minutes behind, coupled with too fatigued, to make up the time exponentially. I managed less-than-an-hour in that loop, but not 50 minutes, and was finally pulled, along with the runners behind me. I conceded without complaint, especially since I was given some favors already at the previous two aid stations, but was frustrated because my “bounce-back” was in full effect and I was feeling stronger and ready to continue.

I believe the extra cushioning in the Adidas trail shoes allowed my body to recover a bit from the earlier beating I took in the NB, lower-profile shoes.

In total, I covered approx. 40 miles …or 38.6 “horton miles”; but it might as well have been four miles. Getting pulled stings.

I would like to note that the loop is *** BY FAR *** my favorite part of the MMTR course. This experience, plus my other ultras, are proving to me that this is my favorite kind of trail running – technical, single track. I think I have a little less fear in this terrain than the ‘average’ trail runner and that helps me make up for my lack of raw speed. In wide open areas, I tend to get passed, but in technical, sometimes hair-ball sections, I tend to move swiftly and quicker than those being a bit more careful.

That might come back to bite me in the butt someday too.

It’s a very long bus ride back to the Heritage parking lot listening to all the others who finished; BUT, it’s part of the experience and I wouldn’t erase it from the situation if I could.

I felt really bad. I don’t like to fail.

So it’s back to the drawing board. Ultrarunning is something I want to do forever and eventually, do well. There’s a big difference between a 50K and 50 miles and I didn’t give the jump from 50Ks to 50 miles enough respect. I trained well, and I improved over a serious 17-week regime, but I was not MMTR worthy.

Not yet.

I can accept that.

And quite honestly, I like that ultrarunning is something that is not just falling in my lap like other experiences in my life. I have to work very hard to improve my running. I’m not built like a runner – and probably, some might say running is not “for me” and my body type, but I’m not going to quit.

It’s easy to be good at something you have knack for, but it’s a whole different process when you are fighting from the bottom, up.

I will spend the rest of this year and 2008 continuing to get stronger, better, faster and next year will be a completely different story. I plan to come back to Mountain Masochist in 2008 as a different runner.

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Thanks to Dr. Horton for putting on a great event. The MMTR volunteers were extremely energetic and active. The aid stations were all well stocked with huge varieties and eager, helpful station volunteers. I always appreciate this because I’m sure, as a volunteer, they are getting pretty tired of motivating runners by the time #266 gets around to showing up.