This Sunday, a couple of my friends ran the ING Georgia Marathon through Atlanta and Decatur, GA. Monday evening, I emailed one of them the question, “Howz da bod?” And this is the looong response I got back. A veritable race report! Which means only one thing in the hands of this runner-blogger-woman: I. Must. Post. It. Luckily for us, TB my dancing fool/word nerd Yankee-transplant-who-loves-Atlanta-more-than-the-natives is not only literate but actually a fine writer. Herewith, his race report, with commentary.–PF
3/31/09. I’m pretty dern good, all things considered. Stairs are not my friend today. I can do them, just don’t like them, particularly going down. And if I sit for a long time, then standing up goes a little slowly while the joints unstiffen. But other than that, I’m fine. I even jogged across an intersection when the light was about to change, and, playing team trivia at a bar tonight with friends, I sprinted to turn in our answer when we were almost out of time. (Turned out it was the wrong answer, but still.) [I myself am guilty of similar levels of geekiness so I will refrain from the snark which is tempting me right now.-PF] All in all, pretty good for one day after. Oh, and I’ve been filling myself with good foods, as you advised. For breakfast, fruit juice, banana, green tea and cereal. For lunch, an Immune Booster smoothie from Smoothie King. Dinner was broccoli, carrots, beans… and french fries! [I did not advise French fries.-PF] And I just ate a banana. And lots of Tylenol, natch.
I’m still enjoying the glow. Trivia included L and J, the two guys who ran a bit with me yesterday, so I got to sit back while they bragged on me and the others oohed and aahed. Lots of other people have congratulated me, so I’m feeling very loved today. [As you should feel every day.-PF]
But I haven’t really even told you about the run, other than my time, just before I napped.
It was slightly colder than originally forecast, lower 40s when we started, upper 40s (maybe just up to 50) when I finished. Light breeze that got a little stiffer as the race progressed. I know a lot of marathoners consider that just about perfect, but I wouldn’t have minded about 5 degrees warmer. Ah, but the pack will warm ya. It’s really rather remarkable how much warmer it is once you’re surrounded by thousands of other people. My hands were pretty cold the first maybe third of the race and I once or twice wished I’d worn gloves, but mostly the cold seemed like a mere bit of data to me, nothing I needed to pay much attention to. Hands are stiff with cold. OK, noted, now keep running.
For the first seven miles of the race, the marathon and half-marathon courses are together, so for that time I was running with the full 15,000. That’s not necessarily a bad thing… certainly prevented me from going out too fast. [Negative splits rule.-PF] But it was nice after mile 7 to be able to open up a little more. Soon after that, I settled into a really good stride and pace, a faster pace than I’d anticipated, but I was feeling it, was feeling strong and coordinated and… just good. Soon after, as I was passing a group of spectators who were in… well, I was a little unclear on what their costumes were… belly dancing? gypsies? They were clinking finger cymbals anyway. As I approached them, I suddenly saw the bearded face of my former editor, looking like he hadn’t quite figured out the cymbals. I called out, “K!” and he looked up, recognized me, and his face lit up as he waved and I ran on by. [A belly-dancing male. Mmm-oooh-kay!-PF]
As I reached the first of a few places along the course where I remembered feeling like crap last year, [You’re supposed to block that shit out.-PF] I was pleased to discover how good I still felt. There’s a gradual but quite long climb for more than a mile into Decatur, but it barely slowed me down at all… I really felt a spring in my step. Along that climb, there was a group of spectators who did the wave when someone ahead of me ran past. So I veered a little toward them as I approached, locked eyes with the first one as I lowered both of my hands down to my knees, then I threw my hands above my head and they did the wave as I dashed past them, laughing. I swear it loosened my legs and had me leaping up the hill.
Decatur’s cheering zone was right at mile 13, and of course there were several people I knew there, so I held out my hand and got about five high-fives in a row as I ran past. Just a little further on, L — the friend who was to meet me just past mile 17 — called out to me, “Go TB! I’ll see you in four miles!” I hadn’t expected to see him there. That was fun and built on my motivation to get to mile 17.
The hardest part of the course starts at about mile 16, where it enters Druid Hills, a neighborhood which earns the latter half of its name. The elevation changes aren’t enormous; it’s just that there are so goddamn many hills and they’re rather steep. [The last half of the Brooklyn Half is like that; I will forever resent Prospect Park because of it.-PF] I remember running those hills so slowly last year that I was pressing the lower end of the definition of “running.” [We call that “jogging.”-PF] This year I attacked them, and, yeah, slowed down a little and hurt a little, but mostly felt unstoppable. A mile into Druid Hills, there was L, ready to run me through the remaining couple miles of Druid Hills. L is, among other things, a swim coach, and a lot of his kids live in that neighborhood, so a lot of people called out his name in surprise, thinking he was running the whole marathon. Tee-hee! L commented at one point, “You never see anybody booing at marathons.”
Now, L’s my friend and a seriously good guy and I’m grateful that he ran with me, but I’ll confess to taking a certain amount of pleasure from hearing him struggle a little to keep up with me on the uphills. He said early on, “If my heart explodes, just leave me.” L’s about 25 years old and a former competitive swimmer, so, you know, it doesn’t hurt a 38-year-old’s ego to see the young guy huff and puff a little. [Who needs youth when you have stamina?-PF] Running with L was also the first opportunity I had to get some hard numbers on my progress.
I’m guessing this is going to sound a little alien to you, but, though I have a Garmin GPS trainer thing (the model just before little G) [How come you never told me you have a Garmin before??-PF], I don’t wear it when I race. I prefer to mostly stay tuned in to my body and go by that. Numbers take me out of my body. But after we crossed mile 20, L received a text message from one of the splits, predicting I’d finish in 4:37:56. This was way faster than I’d expected. I assumed at that point that I’d slow down and not make quite that fast, but I was still very pleased to have run the first 20 miles at that kind of pace. And to still be running this well, feeling this well, this deep into the race.
Oh, it was also during my time with L that I saw some guy in an SUV try to drive around the cones blocking his way and cross the race course… while a cop was standing right there. I watched the beginning of a major dressing down of the guy by the cop as we ran by. I saw a few impatient drivers along the course, actually. It’s remarkable how upset people get when they can’t drive everywhere they want along any route they want the very minute they want to do it… on a Sunday morning! Sheesh. [Now would be the time for the spectators to start booing…at the drivers.–PF] Yeah, sorry, the roads belong to the runners today. [Um, and every day!-PF]
Originally, the plan was for L to just run about two miles with me, but he’d decided that morning to run all the way to mile 21 with me, where J was waiting. L had ordered Girl Scout cookies from J’s daughter and figured he’d pick them up. [Did I ever tell you about the time I ate a whole box of Thin Mints for lunch?-PF] I remembered that last year I’d been seriously dogging it by the time I got to J at the same spot. I kept waiting for my energy to give out, for the wall to slam into me, but nope… just kept on pounding forward. I was hurting some, but it was like it didn’t matter, just wasn’t all that relevant to my running. Filed away to deal with later while I kept on in this rock solid stride I’d found. [I would be cheering for you like crazy if I were on the curb right now!-PF]
We got to J, me still feeling good, I slapped hands with J’s son, then J and I were off. J too talked about the projected 4:37, and I told him too how I figured I’d probably slow down some from that but felt pretty good. He told me I looked a lot better than last year. I felt that way too. As we were running through Piedmont Park — familiar ground for me, it’s where I do most of my training — J took out his cell phone and Twittered a quick tweet: “Runnin w t rite now! Good pace! Mile 23, 4 t.” And still I wasn’t slowing down. [OMG. Twitter just ran a marathon.-PF]
As he did last year, J told me funny stories. He also — and, as far as I know, he and L didn’t coordinate on this previously — said he thought it’d be funny if, instead of the uplifting cheering we were getting, people shouted out real hard-ass stuff like, “My grandmother could run faster than that! Move! Move! Move!” [Best not to try that out in New York.-PF]
As we approached mile 24, J and I joked how I was going to start sprinting soon and kick up asphalt behind me with all the energy I had left. I didn’t actually do that, but when J peeled off at mile 24, I decided to up my pace just a little. I’d forgotten about the last long hill leading up to about mile 25, but fuck it, only two miles left, dig deep, don’t save it. So up I went, then just one mile left, most of it slightly downhill or flat. And yeah, OK, at long last I can feel my energy beginning to flag, but I’ve got enough left. No all out sprint, but I’m not slowing down, hell no, and it’s just around that corner and a couple blocks more. And then I can see the finish line and I’m still like this unstoppable force, the pain irrelevant to this pace I found like 19 miles ago and haven’t broken, and I’m passing people who are gasping, their shoulders sagging, one leg just following the other along for the ride, but I’m still running in good form, and the announcer calls out my name as I make the final approach… and I’m done… and running a few steps more before at last that metronome moving my legs turns off. [That’s right. You beat all those pathetic losers who are slower than your grandmother.-PF]
My time? 4:37:14. Which means that not only did I not slow down in the last six miles, I actually sped up just a little. But mostly I was just rock solid in my pace.
So, yeah, I had a really good time. And though my time was nothing extraordinary in the grand scheme of things, it was much better than I expected, so that felt good too. But mostly I felt good that I felt good, you know? [Yes.–PF] I thought this marathon might turn out to be something I just endured, but it wasn’t like that. I conquered it and had fun doing it, felt strong doing it. [Dude! You totally killed your old marathon time like Buffy on a vampire with a wooden stake! Except you’re not blonde.-PF]
And then it was fun too, as L and J told people throughout the day today, to have stories filter back to me from other friends, like hearing my own mythology told to me. It’s good to hear it through them, you know? Because I may think, well, yeah, I finished it, but I took twice as long as the Kenyans did. [Pfft.–PF] But all my friends pay attention to is that I ran 26.2 miles and did it at a pace that left L and J pooped after doing only 3 or 4 miles of it with me. Which is, you know, really pretty awesome. [Pretty effing awesome! I wouldn’t go so far as to say you’re a Greek god or anything, but I am definitely bragging on you, man.-PF.]
I feel good. [I knew that you would.-PF, channeling James Brown]