Last week I was lucky enough to spend the entire week at home with my family. Thanksgiving and Christmas are definitely the times of year I most appreciate how easily I can work remotely – thanks, job! I had spent the past several weeks focusing on running and speed sessions to get a new half marathon PR at the Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon in Atlanta. Then I got home and was spoiled to have chocolate pie and pumpkin pie available any time I wanted. I was so glad to be home and on a break from my normal routine that getting a PR became less of a focus for the week. Also I had eaten a LOT of chocolate. And my hip has been extra cranky the past few weeks and I can’t figure out how to fix it. Grr. So I didn’t know how the race would go.
Spoiler: I cut more than two minutes off my previous PR with a 1:37:05!
Eric had agreed to pace me for the race. My goal was to break 1:39 (average of 7:33 per mile) by any amount of time– his goal for me was to beat 1:39 by a few minutes. Our plan was that I would set the pace for the first mile and then trust Eric with the rest and not freak out if I saw a fast mile or two. I also had very specific instructions to run the tangents and not waste energy weaving around people.
My family all runs the half each year (or 5k depending on injury status and fitness level), so Eric came up to the race with us. It was 24 degrees out, which is VERY cold by Georgia standards. I think it’s usually around 40 degrees for this race. The cold weather also stressed me out because of how hard it was to hit my paces during my very cold mile repeats a few weeks ago. Anyway, we warmed up and lined up for the race!
The first mile was a comfortable 7:18. I had hoped to be a bit slower, but the first mile is always hard to reel in. Eric took over for the rest of the race, and I just ran with my eyes on his back. We didn’t talk much, and he spent the majority of the race a few steps ahead of me, which shockingly (to both of us) didn’t bother me. I think it allowed me to zone out and just keep running. The course is pretty hilly, especially in the second half, so Eric had warned me that we’d probably need to positive split against my wishes. I’ve never had someone pace me before, but I think I like it.
I honestly don’t remember much of the race. I just ran hard for a while. Eric would check in occasionally to see how I felt, and my answer stayed the same: I feel ok but I don’t want to go any faster yet. We stayed near some of the same people for the entire race, which I always enjoy even if I never actually speak to them. At mile 8ish I tried to eat a Gu Chomp but it was frozen and I couldn’t chew it so I spit it back out. There were a lot of icy patches, which is unusual for Atlanta – my brother even saw someone slip. There were also a ton of black, chocolate, and yellow Labs out to cheer with their humans. I swear the majority of Eric’s and my communication during the race was pointing at dogs on the sidelines.
Oh right, back to the race. When we got to mile 8, Eric warned me that we’d pick up the pace once we got to mile 9. Now that I look at my mile splits, I see that we didn’t really speed up much, but the course got hilly and I was certainly working hard. I ate a few Jelly Belly sport beans around this time. The last few miles I was definitely looking at my watch and failing miserably at calculating whether we’d beat 1:39 and how much of a cushion I had. I wanted to ask Eric, but also figured it was better not to know and to run a little scared instead. This was for the best.
When we passed the 12 mile marker, I had 10 minutes to run 1.1 miles and I knew I had a new PR. Eric said something about how I was going to crush my old PR and I thanked him because I really couldn’t have done it without him. Then the finish line took FOREVER to appear and I started to get worried, which resulted in a 7:07 pace for the last 1.1 miles – easily the fastest split of the day.
Finally we crossed the finish line and I had a new PR – 1:37:05, which is an average pace of 7:25 per mile. I love running, and it’s so nice when running loves you back (and when hard work pays off).
I attribute my success to 1) the strong fitness base I developed training for my half ironman all summer and fall, 2) the speed workouts Eric gave me for my 6 weeks of dedicated half marathon training, 3) the relatively low pressure for the race (I didn’t need to qualify for anything and I don’t compare myself to other runners nearly as much as I do other triathletes), and 4) Eric’s pacing skills – I honestly didn’t have to think the entire race, just put one foot in front of the other. Plus sometimes the stars just align and you get lucky.
We got our over-sized medals and space blankets and headed to the car for warm clothes before cheering on the rest of my family. This race is very well-done, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a half marathon on Thanksgiving in Atlanta. The 5k is fun, and there are two kids races as well, but the focus of the event is definitely the half marathon. It’s a great way to get a fun and healthy start to the day. I generally don’t approach exercise as a way to justify what I eat, but for Thanksgiving, sure, I’ll have an extra slice of pie for the fact that I raced that day!