Since my half marathon PR in Savannah a week ago, I’ve been doing a little reminiscing on my first two half marathons. I remembered enough to go ahead and write a recap before I forget even more than I already have. Most of the recap will be from the Publix Georgia Half Marathon this past year since I remember it better. 🙂
I didn’t have a blog when I ran the race, and probably wouldn’t have wanted to recap the race at the time anyway. This race was the biggest disappointment I’ve had as a runner to date, and has therefore influenced many of the goals I have and training I’m doing now. Here’s the story.
A Little Background – My First Half Marathon
For my first half (Savannah RnR), I attempted a training plan that was both too long and too ambitious. It was a 20 week plan, for a 1:55 half. My most recent 10k time was 59:00. I was delusional. Surprise of all surprises, I fell flat in workouts, then dreaded workouts, then skipped workouts, and hated everything about running. Work got crazy a month before the race, and I ended up working 12 hour days and some weekends. Once I logged all the missed runs into my run tracker, it suggested I might reconsider running the race. I did not reconsider anything. I forgot to pack my shoes and wore a 60 year old lady’s walking shoes for the race. I ran the race in 2:02:13, and collapsed (figuratively) in the final 5k. I knew with proper training, I had a sub-2:00 half in me. When I changed jobs not long after the race (for other reasons, but having the time and energy to train properly for distance races was a nice benefit), I signed up for the Publix race.
Training – a brief summary concocted from 9 month old memories
I trained for 11 weeks, starting at 17 miles per week and peaking at 27 miles per week. I nailed most of my workouts (on the treadmill), which were typically a total of 6 miles including warmup and cool down, and consisted mainly of 4 mile tempo runs around 9:00/mile and 3x mile repeats between 5k and 10k pace with 800m recovery intervals. (Fewer of the mile repeat workouts were “nailed”; this is my least favorite workout ever.) I knew the course was more challenging than Savannah, so I ran hilly long runs through the city, spending a lot of time on the race course itself. The long runs were HARD, and I think the hilly ones averaged around 10:45/mile, although I don’t have data on it. I did really enjoy this training cycle.
My training for this race was so much better than my training for the Savannah half a few months prior, so I was excited and felt ready to crush the sub-2:00 half.
The week before the race, for my last 13 mile long run, I decided I’d done too much slogging on hills and wanted to run fast and flat, with a fast finish. I headed to my trusty flat long-run trail and ran my heart out in the last 5k. I also missed my last speed workout on the Thursday before and did it on Friday before the Sunday race. I don’t know what you’re really supposed to do for a half marathon taper, but I’m fairly certain experts don’t recommend what I did for this race.
The Expo and Pre-Race Activities
I don’t have much to say about the Expo – I was in and out as quickly as possible. It was well-organized, short lines, and I appreciated that the safety pins were already precounted in the race packet vs. having to fish them out of a box. (The little things get me.) The Expo is located at the Georgia World Congress Center, which is easily accessible by MARTA (Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center station on the Blue or Green line). It’s the same location and setup as the Peachtree Road Race expo for those who have run the Peachtree. Thankfully MARTA has increased its weekend service since then, so wait times should be no more than 10 minutes for future races.
The day before was a friend’s birthday. There was a birthday party, and I went. I had 3 or 4 beers, crushed the cheese plate, and ate a couple of generous helpings of pasta salad. We went to the roller derby and had a great time. File this one away under “good times I paid for later.”
The corrals are a short hike from the Peachtree Center MARTA station, but early in the morning in March, I was happy to do some walking and keep the blood flowing. The organization of the race/corrals is pretty standard – overall what you’d expect from a well-organized race.
The weather was great: around 50 degrees at the start.
These miles are net downhill, but there are a couple of uphills that really hit you hard when your belly is still full of cheese and beer from the night before. The course starts on Marietta Street and goes past Georgia State campus, then turns north on Piedmont through downtown up to North Ave. The course then heads south on Central Park and Jackson Ave. to Old Fourth Ward.
Towards the end of mile 3, there is a nasty hill on Central Park that I’d encountered on a couple of training runs. I’m pretty sure I was already out of breath at this point. Mile 3! I probably should have slowed down, regrouped, and enjoyed the race, but I couldn’t let go of my competitiveness, not even with all that junk in my belly.
At my pace and corral start time (~2:00 finish), it was dark outside until mile 3 or 4.
These are my favorite miles of the course. I ran some variation on this route a lot during my training runs. The course goes through Old Fourth Ward past the Martin Luther King Historic Site. The course turns through the gorgeous tree-lined neighborhood of Inman Park, and up past the eclectic Little 5 Points. After passing Little 5, there’s a bit of a dull stretch up Moreland and Freedom Parkway, past the Carter Center (snoozefest, and a big hill on North Ave.), up Highland Ave. through the Virginia-Highland neighborhood and into Piedmont Park.
Around mile 4 or 5, I looked at my Garmin, did some math, and realized I was not on track for my goal time. I was also still feeling the cheese and beer in my stomach. I tried picking up the pace a smidge and hoped my stomach wouldn’t revolt.
The 2:00 pace group passed me running up the hill by the Carter Center, around mile 7. I tried to keep up, but this was the first point when I thought it might be a good idea to ease off the gas, considering that the race was only 7 miles in and I was running at an effort level that, frankly, was not sustainable for 6 more miles.
Miles 8 & 9, the Virginia-Highland miles, are truly my favorite miles of the course, primarily because they are a slight downhill most of the way. There are pockets of bars up and down Highland, and I recall the spectators being pretty fun. Once the course turns on Virginia, it’s mostly a gentle downhill where you could pick up the pace comfortably. Park Lane is residential, with some cute kids cheering from their yards.
I relaxed a little and settled into a groove over these miles, still hoping to beat my Savannah time.
Miles 10 & 11
Did your mom tell you, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? Mine too. I have nothing to say about this part of the race.
Okay okay, let’s get this over with:
The good: this part of the course goes through Piedmont Park and Midtown. It’s a nice, scenic area with some decent crowd support on the course once you get out of the park. The uphills level off once the course turns onto 5th Street from Juniper.
The bad: a mean, mean person designed this route to take the course uphill for 1.5 miles with no flat or downhill segments of significance. Includes the 10th Street Hill of Death. Also includes numerous other death-hills, all strung together to create the worst kind of torture for goal-oriented runners. Good luck enjoying the scenery.
The ugly: I don’t have the historical Garmin data, but I’m fairly certain my splits were in the 10:30 range. I was huffing, puffing, trying not to poop, and dying a little inside every time a runner in a skirt or a bro in basketball shorts breezed by me like it was nothing. I probably looked like I’d never run before in my life.
Bless the race photographers for not appearing on this section of the course. Curse Jeff’s great idea to cheer me on at the 10.5 mile mark, at the tail end of the torture. The look on his face when he saw me confirmed that I was a wreck. It’s extra demoralizing to realize that you’re not hiding it from anyone.
Miles 12, 13, and 0.1
The final stretch of both the marathon and half marathon leave Midtown via Tech Square and the 5th Street bridge over the freeway, and into Georgia Tech campus, past the football stadium (there are some more annoying uphill stretches by the stadium). After passing the stadium on North Ave., the course takes an unfortunate turn down Tech Parkway, the least scenic street on the entire campus. Thankfully, there’s an aid station with oranges and pockets of spectators on the street. The course exits campus on Means Street and the remainder of the course (about a mile and a half) is on Marietta Street, passing light industrial sites and Coca-Cola headquarters. The scenery picks up a little after crossing Ivan Allen and approaching the finish.
I lived on the west side of Atlanta by Georgia Tech at the time, so I thought my countless treks down Marietta Street would make the final mile like a homecoming. If homecoming is supposed to feel like stomach aches and reflecting upon the disappointment of the race, then it was indeed a homecoming. I just remember trying to muster as much effort as I could to run faster and minimize the damage on the clock. I already felt defeated, so it wasn’t my best final-two-miles effort. Thankfully the race photographers decided to remember it for me:
I have no idea how my bib got pinned to my boobs or how I thought that headband could ever be a good look.
The finish is at Centennial Olympic Park, and I don’t remember a lot other than running hard to get it over with, and thinking it was taking a long time. Again, photos tell the story better than I would:
Price: reasonable for an urban marathon ($100 and $85 for the marathon and half as of the time of this post / 4 months in advance).
Size: capped at 18,000 for full + half; split 25/75 between full and half participants. I never felt as crowded as I did for Savannah RnR, but definitely didn’t get any alone time either.
Course/Difficulty: I tried to train for the hills by doing hilly long runs, but I really don’t think it was enough. If I run the race again I’ll consider doing workouts on hilly terrain, or at least on a treadmill hill program. (Disclaimer: I lived in flat west Tennessee and central/north Texas for 26 years of my life, so I’m not the best hill runner). The course isn’t ideal for PRs, but it’s overall very scenic and takes you through some of the best neighborhoods in Atlanta. Bonus points for easy transit access.
Weather: the low temperature for this year’s race was 47 degrees, and the mean temperature for the day was 55, which is slightly above historical averages.
Shirt/medal: shirt was just ok (tech shirt that is fine until you get really sweaty), and I really liked the medal – simple with a touch of glitter.
Aid stations: there were 8 on the half marathon course by my count. Volunteers were fabulous at all but one, which was so bad I still remember it over six months later. They have red Powerade, which I find disgusting, so I avoided it. I don’t think there were any Gu stations, but there were snacks like jelly beans and orange slices (much appreciated at mile 12).
Other amenities: I can’t speak to gear check, which I don’t really use, or the post-race food, which I skipped in favor of a delicious homemade meal by my amazing-cook-boyfriend. I will vouch for the post-race bathrooms: there were plenty of portapotties available after the race.
After the race, I was so disappointed that I briefly considered paying a ridiculous sum of money to run the Music City Half Marathon a month later. I’d love to run the race again because a) it’s reasonably priced, b) it’s well organized, c) it’s pretty, d) it’s convenient, and e) I want revenge on those damn hills. Without beer or cheese in my belly. Sounds reasonable?
Have you run the Georgia Marathon or Half Marathon? I’d love to hear what you thought of the race!