I didn’t get into Atlanta until 11pm on Friday night (on September 30th – this is a very delayed race report). And then I still had to get out of the airport and get a taxi to the hotel downtown where Adam was waiting. As a result, I didn’t get to bed until about 12:30am, and then I wasn’t tired so I read until 1am – not ideal when we had a 6am alarm set to get up and head to the start.
As a result, the wakeup was fairly brutal, and made worse by the fact that it was completely dark out the whole time we were getting ready. Was it even going to be daylight by the time the race started at 8am? We left the hotel just after the (late) sunrise around 7am – fortunately, we didn’t have to worry about parking because we stayed at a hotel close to Piedmont Park, where the race was being held.
It was a pretty (albeit chilly) walk to the start on the other side of the park. Piedmont Park was gorgeous, and reminded me a lot of Central Park in New York City.
The start area was pretty quiet, since it was a very small race and we were there well before the start. We picked up our bibs and t-shirts and milled around the area before deciding to hit the bathroom. Turns out, Piedmont Park had these really futuristic bathrooms where everything (and I do mean everything) was touch controlled. You went into the elevator-shaft looking unit, and then tapped a touchpad to close the door. Rather than flushing based on sensing movement, the toilet flushed only when you turned on the water to wash your hands. And a sign on the wall indicated that if you were in there for more than ten minutes, the door would open to kick you out! Furthermore, the sign said that if you heard a warning bell, you needed to exit because it was about to self-clean the unit. I spent my entire bathroom visit scared that either the door would open up or that the sprayers would hose me down with bleach. If this is the future of bathrooms, I think I’ll stick with the low-tech version 🙂
After the bathrooms, we milled around the start for a bit, mostly trying to avoid standing in front of the speakers blasting too-loud pop music. But then it was go time. I ditched my fleece jacket and our race t-shirts from packet pickup at a booth near the finish line, after asking the two volunteers manning the booth. Hooray for small races (and races that start and at the same place)! We joined the crowd at the start, and I tried to position myself close to the front – just behind the teenage boys wearing matching American flag shorts, who were obviously part of some high school cross country team. They looked fast, and I wanted to stick with them!
The race started, and I took off right after them… losing Adam for a minute in the crowd. Where did he go?! But then he caught back up, and as we rounded the first curve (of many), he told me I needed to slow down, and that I was going out way too fast. In fact, I was running a 5:45 pace – whoops! But as is our now-typical race routine, my reply was, “No, but it feels good!” And I truly didn’t care that I had gone out really fast – the pace felt really comfortable, and after coming around the curve, we were now on the subtlest of downhills that made it even more comfortable. For once (ha!) I decided to ignore Adam’s advice, and just keep doing what I was doing.
We turned left around the back edge of the lake and onto a dirt oval track, where we could see the competitors in front of us. I was the first female at this point, but it was way too early in the race to worry about that. Instead, I focused on picking off the male competitors in front of me. By the time we hit the one mile mark, several had already fallen off the pace.
But what was the pace? I wasn’t entirely sure. When we reached the one mile mark on the course, my Garmin was only showing about 0.85 miles. Was the mile marker on the course wrong (in which case that would mean I did the first mile in about 7:20, as I found out when my Garmin beeped later), or was my GPS all messed up because of the many turns and the many trees? I wouldn’t find that out until the end of the race, and in general, I didn’t really know what my pace was throughout.
We headed off the dirt track and onto a paved road, which curved up a hill and around various bends. It was frequently hard to see what was coming next because of how curved the course was, but I did my best to run the tangents anyway. And whenever we came upon a downhill, I surged forward, making sure that I didn’t take it easy just because it was downhill. I managed to pick off a few more competitors, in particular, one very-fit guy I had been eyeing at the start in a neon orange shirt. But when we hit a hill around mile 1.3, he was a goner.
We cruised past a circular walkway and took a sharp right turn… where I purposely cut Adam off on the corner. Hey, he was the one who told me to make sure to run the tangents right?! 😉 The course stayed relatively straight for about a quarter mile, and then we took a hairpin turn to the right down a steep hill – where I passed one of the American-flag-shorts-wearing cross country boys from the beginning of the race. (It’s only in running that you’re proud of beating a high school boy, huh?) We then took another hairpin turn left that took us to another straightaway – but this time, a seemingly popular path that had several pedestrians on it, many with strollers. If it wasn’t one obstacle, it was another! I just focused on looking as far ahead of me as I could to see which way the road would wind, and then trying to aim directly at the farthest spot on the road I could see. We crossed the two mile mark in here, and my Garmin recorded a split of 6:48 (though at the time I didn’t know that).
The final mile wasn’t completely straight, but at least it didn’t have the hairpin turns there had been early in the race. I wasn’t getting nearly as tired as I had in previous 5Ks during the last mile, but I was scared of pushing the pace too early and running out of steam. In particular, I could see from where we were running that the finish was above us, and I wanted to make sure I had the energy to gain elevation without slowing down.
Finally, at mile 2.5, it was time to go up, up, up! The hill wasn’t that bad (we gained about 25 feet of elevation in 0.2 miles), but I was definitely tired when I got to the top. It was here that Adam started to really push me to go fast. I knew we were close to the finish, but because of my Garmin being off, I wasn’t entirely sure how far. Even though I could see the finish to my left, we had to loop around to get to it and I wasn’t sure how far we needed to go out before turning back. Adam told me that I could break 21 minutes if I pushed the pace, but I didn’t quite comprehend what a coup breaking 21:00 would be, and I kind of tuned him out. (More on that later.) With my music turned up for motivation, I just ran about the same 6:40ish pace I had been doing all along…
…and then we hit the end of the loop and turned toward the finish. Only about a tenth of a mile left – it was go time! I started sprinting with everything I had, vaguely knowing that I was going to PR, but not really knowing by how much. I did know, though, that no woman had managed to pass me – so I was going to win this little race! With Adam by my side, we sprinted that last tenth of a mile to victory.
It was only after I crossed the line that I really looked at my watch and saw how I had done. 21:00… so I had beat my old PR by 33 seconds. I was pretty excited about that, and went so far as to post to Instagram about how excited I was to PR by 33 seconds. But then Adam pointed out that I’m an idiot, and I was totally off on my minutes. (Math is hard.) My old PR was 22:33, not 21:33, so I had actually PRed by a whopping 93 seconds!!! And, I had indeed finished as the first female in the whole race!!! That earned me this really special handcrafted medal.
Poor Adam had to keep listening to me for the rest of the morning blabbering on in awe of how well I had done. I had gone 30 seconds PER MILE faster than my previous 5Ks, and I had broken a 7:00 average mile pace for the race – I couldn’t believe it! Turns out, I am capable of going a lot faster than I think I am.
In talking with Adam about the race afterward, I was really excited that while he had tried to slow me down at the beginning because he didn’t think I was trained to sustain that pace, I had gone for it anyway – and succeeded. Adam didn’t like that interpretation, and tried to double back on how he had tried to get me to slow down. But it wasn’t that I thought he was a naysayer; I had learned from my training with Adam that I get great motivation from taking his goals for me and then exceeding them. It actually makes me more proud of myself that I was able to achieve something he didn’t think I was ready for, and that I pushed hard and gritted it out and succeeded. I know that I should want to succeed for myself, and if Adam hadn’t been there, I’d still be plenty proud… but it’s like a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that I ran so fast even when he didn’t think I could do it 🙂
Now that I know I’m faster than I think, I feel like sub-21 isn’t quite as elusive as Adam once tried to tell me it was. While at Deena’s Mammoth Running Escape, I thought that a realistic goal of sub-22 was just not that exciting, and I asked Adam if he thought I could train to go sub-21. (Having a PR of 21 minutes and change isn’t quite as exciting as 20 minutes and change, because… round numbers.) Adam wisely counseled me that as you get faster, it becomes a lot harder to take a lot of time off your PR, so going from a 22:39 down to sub-21 was a huge leap. Heck, the 22:39 I ran in April was already a huge leap from the 24:17 that was my previous PR. He thought that I should focus on getting sub-22, and then (if I managed to go sub-22) we’d worry about sub-21.
This fall, I was definitely fulfilling Adam’s prophesy of knocking a few seconds here and there off that 22:39 – down to 22:37, and then 22:33. But after each of those races, I finished feeling like I could have gone faster. “Could have” doesn’t count, I know, which is why I wanted to keep trying. And it worked! No imposter syndrome here – I don’t think it was a fluke that I was able to get down to 21:00. I just think the conditions were right (well, except for not-enough-sleep), and that I finally got close to seeing my true potential. And, I would add that I think that my potential will definitely let me squeeze out one more second to go sub-21 sometime soon! 😉
So what race will come next? I’m not sure yet… and three weeks later, I am plenty out of running practice 🙁 But Adam assures me that a few weeks off shouldn’t take me out of the game completely, especially since I’ve still been working out quite a bit. I just need to get back to disciplined running training soon, and perhaps then I can go sub-21?! I am super pumped about that possibility. As I told Adam, if I continue to improve at this pace, maybe I’ll be outrunning him soon! (That is a joke; his PR is 17:59. So you know, it might take a few months.)
Finally, the race video features Adam and I in our final sprint to the finish – check us out at 1:21!
Distance: 3.1 miles
Overall place: 9/80
Gender place: 1/37
Age group place: 1/10