Its What Happens When You Disobey

An Atlanta Half Marathon experience report

Atlanta Half Marathon elevation profile

I couldn’t wait to run this course.

A little sheepish coming into the race with no running, having limped around town with half a toenail, and exposed, regenerating flesh for two weeks.

cool, huh?

hurt a lot.

Rollin’ with Li’l Weezy

Actually, Weezy ran smart, so I never saw him after the start.

We broke out, with me authoritatively chanting out loudly, “8:45, dude. 8:45s.”

and by mile two, I wasn’t even obeying myself, and I’m off running 7:30s, with Weezy no longer even in ear shot.

Once again, I start playing too big for my britches.

I knew it was wrong.

I knew it would make it hurt later.

But I rationalized. Like an addikt.

“Oh, just hang on, you’ll be fine.”

And sure enough, the early miles just ripped off.

The devil smiles.

Down Northside. Through Atlantic Station. Lots and lots of fast downhill.

Sugar for the starving psyche.

14th Street

We ran down Spring St. towards midtown, and I knew that 14th street was coming – the first real climb of the day.

It’s not all that steep, just awfully long, and I hoped to pick off people here who “had gone out too fast.”

Unfortunately, I was one of them.

I recovered on the downhill heading into Piedmont Park, but was starting to feel it. This is right at mile 6 and by using the same strategy I used at the Silver Comet, where I had hoped to start cranking up the speed.

Difference was:

A) I had already gone out, and maintained, a much faster start pace, on this more challenging course, and…

B)  I had the 10th street climb and rolly, polly long Juniper stretch coming up.

Hardly the optimal conditions for cranking up the speed and intensity.

Instead, I slowed – a lot – and quite honestly, shuffled through the 10th street climb and rolling Juniper stretches feeling pretty ruff.

Time to pay the piper.

8:51 won’t get ya there

The Garmin was crabbing at me.

8:15s, 8:20s – all kinds of “no-chance-at-getting-a-sub-1:40″ paces started appearing at 8 miles.

Atlanta Half Marathon splits

I just had nothing left.


After 10 miles, we circled Oakland Cemetery, and started the steep, 2-stage climb, to Memorial Drive.

Those hills put the nail in the coffin and people started passing me a’plenty.

Where I was able to shine at the Silver Comet, I was just barley holding on in the Atlanta race.

Such a very clear example of pushing too hard, coupled with a lagging fitness currently incapable of 7:30-ish for distances beyond 10K.

Why can’t I just run within, or even slightly under, my means?

To be so immature at 40 years old is aggravating.

Capital Punishment

I suppose it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving for an Atlanta runner without a little capital punishment.

You know the climb.

Last 1/2 mile stretch. That last little steep climb to the right of the Georgia Capital.

You always stare at it on the way out, knowing you’ll be seeing it a little later – but as a much different runner.

Seeing that finish line

It always is such a relief to see a finish line banner.

As I was basking in my self-congratulatory greatness for merely fighting through the urge to stop running, I cramped.

Nothing serious, just a quick bite; but judging by my over-eager pace (see Garmin pace log above) on that last stretch, I’m lucky it wasn’t a lot worse.

Not sure what I was trying to prove speeding up to 6:38s on dead legs.


yup, …again.

and for no reason at all at 1:46:03

someday, I’ll learn.

I hope.

Fun and Holiday

Running a challenging race on Thanksgiving is a highlight of my holiday season(s). I truly enjoy it, and the Atlanta Track Club did an excellent job. Plenty of water and sports drink on the course, good post-race food, and high quality finisher awards. As a side note, the tech shirts were great, too.

A great way to start the holiday, and with great friends.

Greatest, Most Fantastic-est Race Day Ever

Little Wayne gets his buckle

I should have at least showered first

I just got home from the race, walked in the door, cracked open an Izze and went straight to the keys to write.

What a weekend!

And, once again, I experience a race lesson.

I say experience, rather than learn, because I never really seem to actually learn anything …I just end up experiencing it, being moved by it, and maybe (read:most likely) writing about it.

But learning? ask around.

Weezy vs. Pinhoti

Weezy is my friend. “Little Wayne”, “li’l weezy”, “sleazy weazel”, “WEzy” …whatever. You know who I mean, and if you don’t, picture this:

Picture a man in love with life. Someone you want to be around because they are entertaining, genuine, funny and different.

In the south, we call it “good people”; and you won’t find better people ‘roun no’where.

I guess surviving cancer can do that for a person. It would make sense that survivors can seemingly find a deeper appreciation for life.

And don’t wonder why I hung his little “c” word, personal tidbit out there for the general populous – all you have to do is run with him and you’ll hear all about it within the first 20 minutes of meeting him.

Weezy’s a survivor.

And Saturday night, li’l weezy put on a survival clinic.

The plan was to run together

I swore off 100s until I was willing to train with the appropriate dedication for completing the distance in one day (24 hours or less)…

…but, come on! The Pinhoti 100 race is practically in my backyard.

And anyway, l’il weezy was running his first 100-miler ever, and since I finished the race last year and knew the course, I thought it would be really cool if we tried to run it together.

We talked about it and talked about it – for months we discussed it – and it was settled, we were going to run together.

But, when the horn blew, we weren’t anywhere near ‘together’.

The conga line

I’d let out a loud whoop scream, and he’d yelp something back at me, but there was a good 50 people or more behind me, and letting them all pass would be cumbersome and slow for everybody, so I just ran along and hoped we’d meet up along the way.

I went out with Kim Nosenchuck-Brooks (badass), Dreama Campbell (badass), and a few interesting dudes who knew me from this blog. Some of whom were completing their first ultra. “Wad up, dudes?”

Christian running into the 20-mile aid station with Kim Nosenchuck-Brooks
photo: it’s blurry ‘cuz of our blazing speed {wink} – Kim and I climbing in at 20 miles.

Shockingly, those dudes were concerned to be up running with me, and not shockingly, I was concerned to be running up anywhere near Kim and Dreama; but as usual, the day felt good, the trail smooth and easy, and I false-rationalized that I didn’t need to be painfully slow today.

And I just started running free.

“Where the hell was that little sleazy weazle, anyway?”

Something not to play with


“Damn, it’s happening again.”

My chest tightens and I get this cross between a heavy pressure building in my chest, and an almost stalling of my heart, which then results in a massive heart-beat pounding that takes my breath and energy away instantly.

“I’m just gonna slow down, walk, and let weezy and his group catch up so I can chill with them.”

I was uneasy, but planning to be silent about it and let it go away.

It’s been happening to me for a few months. Working behind the PC, or sitting in an office meeting, or watching a soccer game – it doesn’t matter – I’ll just get this tightness sensation in my chest that forces me to take an extra deep breath, and I feel my chest contract.

Lesson one: “Hey dude, it isn’t gonna just go away. Deal with it. You are 40 years old, not 22.”

Rapid hammering at 34

I waited for weezy at the 27 mile aid station, and I put on my most convincing face.

“hurry up guys…”

“come on, come on”

“I waited for you, let’s go!”

…when in reality, I just wanted some social company to take my mind off the fear of the inevitable with these heart poundings beginning to get more and more frequent during the race.

I staggered around with this group for awhile, but I just could not get in the flow.

No matter how slow I ran, my heart-rate would skyrocket, and my chest would pound. Hard.

But, when I saw a little bit o’ stars on the climb to mile 34, I knew I had to speak up.

“Weezy, I don’t want to _ _ _ _ up your race, or weird you out, but I need you to make sure our friends are waiting for me at Bald Rock.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” He asked.

I explained that I was having heart palpitations (which I don’t even know for sure if that’s exactly what I get, but it sounds right and has to do with your heart beating funny.)

I told him to go on and that I was gonna relax for a second and then slowly make my way 6 more miles, after the next aid, to our crews at Bald Rock.

Then I laid down, and another runner – seemingly someone with medical experience – appeared, heard what I said, and had me doing breathing exercises to calm myself down. I waved him on too, though. I wasn’t about to screw up anyone else’s race.

Or, so I thought…

The spirit of an Angel

Ok, everybody loves Shannon Farar-Griefer, so this will come as no surprise to her legion of ultrarunner family, friends and fans, but…

…I hear this woman singing – and its getting closer and closer.

It’s Shannon.

We do the usual trail greetings and I tell her my problem as I search for a patch of sunshine to sit down in again along the trail. I’m already acting a little loopy and unusual.

She picks up on it right away, takes my bottles, sits me down on the trail, and then sits down next to me.

She takes my pulse and feels my heartbeat, letting me know that its beating pretty hard.

Your mind races in these moments, and you automatically consider the worst scenarios, “Oh man, am I gonna have a heart attack and die? Right here in the middle of the nowhere?”

It kinda sucks.

But, it sure was nice to have Shannon there.

She refused to leave me, which made me feel both extremely guilty knowing she flew out from Southern California for this race, but also made me feel a sense of security ‘cuz deep down I did not want to be alone at that moment.

After some time, we got up and walked towards the aid station – me moving sloppily and lazily and slow, and asking politely not to have to talk.

I was scared.

Angel #2 clocks in

Kim Nosenchuck-Brooks, another free spirit personality that’s difficult to describe but similarly unique, caring and entertaining, shows up out of nowhere, coming right at us on the trail.

She was dropping at mile 34, which is unusual because A) she’s fast and never drops, and B) this is not a crew-accessible aid station, so dropping here is discouraged, and thus, rare.

But it just wasn’t her day and being the matter-of-fact kinda person that she is, she dropped anyway, and once she heard about my situation, she came backwards down the trail to find me and offer to get me out of there via her crew (husband).

I was saved.

And even better, Shannon could get on with her race. {phew}

Lesson #2: There are some really, really good people out there who think first of others, and who oooze shining examples of humanity. Shannon and Kim are both in this club and I feel just’a little bit closer to both of ’em after my experience.

“Thanks ladies – both of you.”

Now, we interrupt this story for the “real race.”

Kim’s husband took me all the way to the top of Mount Cheaha, to the bald rock aid station, where I’d meet up with a collection of Atlanta running friends who charged up to the race to provide aid, pacing and support throughout the night.

Since my race was over, I jumped into the truck with Weezy crew #1, Vic’tah, Sus and Sully – and along with Weezy crew #2, Sean, Spanky, Haley and Charlotte, we planned to hit most of the crew-accessible aid stations and make sure weezy had everything he needed to get the 100 miles done in under 30 hours.

Vic’tah told Weez, “weezy, I only have one horse left in this race, you gotta bring it home.” (or somethin’ like that)


“who in the Hell is ‘weezy’?” I heard someone ask.

I think we might have to claim the award for the loudest, rowdiest crew of the night. I’d be sitting out in the freezing cold night, wrapped in a blanket, yelling and screaming when runners would pop outta’ the woods …and when Weezy came through, we’d go insanely crazy for him.

It was all about the weazel.

And, man, every time he’d head out into the freezing (literally) night temps, he’d come back out the other side of that section looking stronger, more focused, and even more excited than he did previously. He was a shining example of athletic ‘heart’ — his heart was in it and nothing or no one was going to stop him.

No one ever had to convince him to stay in the game.

No real pep talks needed, nor extra pampering or care.

Not even in the 2:00 a.m., 20 degree temps, with 65 or more miles in the tank.

People were dropping everywhere, but not Weezy.

A true warrior, smiling the whole way through, with the absolute best attitude one could have for completing 100 miles in the woods.

But he wasn’t the only one smiling…

I got as much satisfaction being out there pumping up the other runners, letting them know about the sections ahead, and offering encouragement and support, as I would have running the event myself.

When I wasn’t passed out in the back of the truck, I was living vicariously through weezy’s race, and it felt great.

Lesson three: Don’t be so selfish. There’s a lot of personal growth and enjoyment to be had sharing your stoke with other runners, helping them to continue on in the race, giving them support, and/or just being there to hand someone a cup of warm soup.

The finish

Hanging around the finish Sunday morning, cheering in the 24-hour plus finishers, was so exciting for me. I had so many friends running this hundo and it was cool to see them in a way I never usually do – finishing a race.

Many first-timers like Dreama Campbell, who I ran with earlier in the day, then watched progressively dig deeper throughout the night, really moved me when finishing strong and completely overwhelmed with emotions.

Along with Alabama friends, Florida friends, GUTS friends and a handful of new friends, we cheered and clapped for every deserving finisher that crossed that finish line. I felt proud for every single one of ’em.


One of Weezy’s pacers, John, and I, walked out of the Sylacauga High School stadium in search of Weezy, now being paced by Sean O.

It was about time for him to be showing up, and we wanted to run along with him, getting him fired up, and making sure he hammered the 1/2 lap around the track before collecting his very first 100-mile buckle.

Here they come… ‘roun the corner …and I start screaming, “yeeeah weeeezy!!!”

“100 miles babeee!!!!!”


and he’s screaming back. His face is all red, partly from the sun, and partly from the hype and the yelling and the excitement.

“you did it dude!!! 100 miles!!!”

and he doesn’t even look tired.

Well, ok, he looked tired.

But he tore into the track, rounded the first turn, and with me running along the infield filming him, crossed the finish line in a respectable 28:31.

way. to. go. weezy.

video: so, I’m running alongside weezy to capture his finish on video, and true to myself, I trip over a mat on the inside of the track …but I still got the shot! …but you’ll hear everyone laughing at me wiggling around the inflield, and if you look really closely, in the left corner, you’ll see Tony G. rolling on the ground laughing just as Weezy finishes.

The tip of the iceberg

You might think this blog entry is long, but it could be a lot longer.

All the little activities, that I had to leave out for brevity, and that are probably only {really} special to the handful of us experiencing it, all compounded to make it one entertaining, exciting and exhilarating race experience.

This is one of those special weekend experiences with lessons around every corner, and a great bonding amongst friends, all centered around a true display of genuine athletic character.

I apologize if I was out-of-control crazy for my friend, but then again, no I don’t.

What I experienced was genuine excitement. Raw emotion that just spilled out over and over and over again and I couldn’t stop smiling before, during or after.

Even now I’m smiling.

I like to smile.

So, thanks sleazy, weezly weazel, for letting me, and all of us that were there, be part of your HUGE accomplishment and ultrarunning accolade.

You earned very single ounce of that buckle.

…and taught me (maybe us all) some valuable lessons along the way.

In the words of every runner, to every other runner, “you rock!”

News Flash: Proper Pacing Works

10th Annual Silver Comet Half Marathon

I learned a valuable running lesson at the Silver Comet Half-Marathon.

So valuable, I want to write about it – and lucky you, you get to read it – although most of you already know this stuff and most likely will just get to end thinking I have a head as thick as mud, saying to yourselves, “finally!”

The man who always explodes

It doesn’t matter.

5K, 50K, 50-miles, 100-miles… I always go out too fast. It’s partly my ultramarathon newbie-ism carrying over, part ego, part getting-caught-up-in-the-event,  and part thinking I am a much better runner than I actually am {read: ego}; but, one thing is for sure, it always results in a miserable second half of any race and I’m pretty sure I have never, ever negative split anything.

Blowing out a hammy two days before

So like every intelligent runner, I participated in 200m speed training intervals 48 hours before I was to run the Silver Comet Half-Marathon, a flat and fast half where I was eager to score a personal best and run fast. By the sixth or seventh interval, I felt good enough to put the hammer down and shoot for that sub:30 200m …but, 50 meters in, there I am screaming and dancing around the track, holding and squeezing my hamstring – damn close to tears.

Hitting my speed goals came to a screeching halt that morning, and I felt stupid.

Reaching out to the social grid

That day, I reached out both on Facebook and the UltraList, asking how I could possibly “heal a hammy in 24 hours.”

I expected lots and lots of sarcasm colored with the usual, “don’t run dude, rest instead”-kinda stuff, but that never happened. Instead I got some great tips from lots of great athletes who I really respect, and yup, I’m gonna name-drop: Amy M., Ray K., Jason V., Laura H., Jason B., Kim P. ….ok, there’s more, but that’s enough – we could all be so lucky to have such knowledgeable people surrounding us.

Jeeez, you’re wordy dude, please get to what actually happened

I know, I know – sorry – so, below is a list of the stuff that I found most helpful, ranked in order:

  1. Wrapping the hammy. Clearly the most effective to relieve some of the pain.
  2. “The Stick” – constantly, all day, for two days.
  3. Lots of easy stretching.

What do I think did not provide any real help?

  1. Ice. Ice never helps me. Never.
  2. Ibuprofen. Just masked the pain initially. I did not use it race day.
  3. Foam rollers.

Here’s my theory on foam rollers: Most runners believe you can’t go hard enough with “the stick” and thus foam rollers, with all your lower extremity weight on top of ’em, is the only way to go deep. It’s opposite for me. I’m very strong. I can pull that stick against my muscles hard, and knead those hard knots like dough; but, with the foam rollers, I cannot seem to apply enough body weight down onto them to make it work. Plus, the foam rollers are awkward and the dogs jump all over me thinking I’m doing some kind of play activity for them.

Lastly, Ray the K sent me an email with a very thorough, quickie rehab and race day program, but the only problem with this crazy dude is that he mixes in jokes and you never quite know for sure what is real advice, and what is an experienced ol’timer just messing with you. In his email, though, he stated to start out very slow, gauge the situation, and if I felt good, gradually turn it up.

That became my plan.

Race day, 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning

I woke and the hammy was barking at me first thing.

I walked around, stretched, “sticked” the Hell out of my legs all over, and then wrapped that hammy tight using a small, thin knee brace and stretching it around my entire upper leg.

A little 1 mile warm-up, and I was good to go.

And the bull horn blows

While I couldn’t quite go out as slow as Ray K suggested (11 minute miles), I did watch the Garmin and settled into somewhere around an 8:40 pace – still painfully slow and quite frustrating watching lots of people get ahead of me (remember: ego is my nemesis).

Weezy and I stayed together, chatting a little, and heading down the rolling streets of Marietta, headed for the Silver Comet Trail, and still rocking mid-8s.

“Man, this is really easy,” I thought to myself, “it’s pretty enjoyable and if I have to maintain this the whole way, that wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.”

Miles 1-4

Just easy cruising. Gradually picking up the pace, but rarely dropping anything faster than 8:10.

Miles 4-6

Weezy’s breathing is getting laborious. It’s making me tired. Then a cool dude from my wife’s church rolls up on me and he’s doing 7:45s, so I hang with him. The legs are very well warmed up, the hamstring pain is there, but its a none-issue at this point in the race.

At around mile 4.5, I stop to pee.

Hammy balls up. Aaaargh!

Ease back into the 7:45 pace post-pee, catch up to cool church dude, and alas the hamstring relaxes.

Miles 6-8

Now I’m feeling great.

I decide that once I hit the turn-around (7.5-ish), I will begin to gradually increase the pace to the point that my hamstring will allow it. I’m not at all tired, and if anything, feel eager to finally get to run hard(er).

I look at my Garmin and the screen is blank. Dead battery. Damn!

So I just start asking people that I pass what their pace is so that I can have some kind of idea what’s happening.

By mile 8, I am starting to drop into the 7:30 pace.

Miles 8-13.1

I bounced around this 7:15-7:30 pace from miles 8-11 as I was starting to feel this just a bit. My breathing was getting a little more “panty”, I was starting to feel a little fatigue, and the hamstring started to get a little crabby – nothing crazy, but I certainly knew it wasn’t yet time to really push…

…and anyway, I was still passing tons of people at this pace who went out too fast. (like I would have)

Once I saw the 12 mile marker about .25 mile away, I knew that now was the time to push – and I started to gradually increase my speed.

I was feeling it at this point, but it felt really great. NEVER IN MY LIFE, have I felt this good, this late into a race.

I was passing a lot of people now, and it felt good to hear people encourage me as I passed. I was eyeing this pretty blond girl ahead of me because it seemed she kicked it just about the same time as me, but I still wanted to catch her – and when I did – I mustered enough breath to ask what our pace was…

“6:30, but I’m not sure I can hold it…”

“Sure you can,” I said. “Let’s hammer ourselves into the ground for this last half mile, come’on…”

She smiled and nodded in agreement, so I picked it up even faster, but only to see her fall off immediately and then, {gasp} start walking.

I heard the hoopla at the finish line before I saw it, so I really starting cranking. The ego got all kinds of inflation points passing so many people so late – as opposed to the usual Christian where I’m counting the placings I’m losing as other people pass me.


1:43-something. And I’m actually hoping that when the chip times come out, I’ll fall into the 1:42 range.

So, thanks for the blow-by-blow, but what did you learn?

First of all, I realize this is far from a fast time, however, I still got the Silver Comet personal best, didn’t aggravate the hamstring further in any way, and best of all didn’t feel like complete death at the end. In fact, I felt very good, energetic and happy at the end – and did it all with a feeling of general ease.

I’m hard-headed as Hell.

I’ve been told by countless runners, way more experienced than me, to learn and understand proper pacing; but instead of being a good little boy and listening, I like to buck convention and make everything 16X harder than it needs to be.

You know the saying, “He’s gotta touch the stove to see if it’s hot?”

Yea, that’s me.

It’s very hard to tell me anything and make me listen. It’s a sickness and I really should get help.

But I get it now.

I finally see the value in pacing.

In your mind, sitting behind a keyboard or wherever, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can go out all hard, try to hold it, and “see what happens” – but almost always “what happens” is terribly painful, physical taxing, mentally frustrating, and emotionally deflating.

I still have a lot to learn, but I feel like my eyes have been opened just a little more, and I can finally put another nook and cranny of experience in my running-life knapsack.

Now, let’s see if I can employ this strategy properly when Weezy and I tackle the Pinhoti 100 next weekend.

Get some!