Earning My Turkey

I’d planned on running a casual race today, then going home and gorging on well-earned turkey and all the accoutrements.  But something about the starting line atmosphere had me feeling feisty.  “Maybe it’s a PR day, Dave,” I said to my brother-in-law.  “We can do that.” he replies.  I’m not a road runner by choice, but can hack pavement if I need too.  In any case, why not get up at 4am to pound pavement with Dave and 10,000+ other people in the Atlanta Half Marathon?  Thanksgiving is always exhausting and I figured to match the inevitable sore gut with a pair of sore feet and legs.

Milling about at the start.

The race went pretty well.

Cruising the first significant hill at about mile 5

We ended up in the third starting wave instead of the first or second where we should have been, thus we spent the entire race passing people.  The weather was perfect, however–40s and clear with no wind–and we warmed up nicely on the first couple miles.  I set a blistering pace from the start and Dave had to reign me in every half mile or so.  A mid-sevens pace is a bad idea for me, even in the thick air of sea level.  The first half was largely downhill and our mile splits varied from 7:29 to 8:05.  We passed the 10k mark at 48:18, a new PR for that distance by a slim 4 second margin.

Dave had been warning me that the second half featured more hills and he wasn’t kidding.  From a trail-running perspective, these aren’t anything too exciting, but at a sub-8-minute pace, they were significant.  We rolled up and down for a while, but didn’t lose too much momentum.  Dave showed a marvelously consistent pace up the hills while I tended to dial it back on the ups and let go on the descents.  Mile 10 came and went at 1:18:42, a 2-minute improvement over my PR at that distance.

Lovely Piedmont Park at the half-way mark.

A half marathon is really nothing more than a 5k with a ten mile warm-up, right?  I’d already broken my PRs for two distances; could I challenge my half marathon best (1:41:58 set during my only other sea level road race) as well?  It would be a close thing and I was feeling pretty gassed.  Quads feeling it a little bit from the uphills and right calf cramping a bit, but not affecting my stride.  At mile 11.5 there was rather long hill that sucked the energy out of me and then a short, fierce little hill a mile later when I’d hoped to spend whatever extra energy I had in the tank… which turned out to be not very much at all.  Around the final curve was a last half-mile, slightly descending straight-away to the finish near Turner Field.  I pushed hard, but didn’t have much more to give.  Close, but not quite!  I stumbled in at 1:42:24.  Record or not, the turkey was definitely earned!

As races go, it wasn’t terribly exciting.  The course was largely generic city streets and the start-finish area was nothing special.  The course volunteers and spectators were fantastic, however, and the weather was beautiful.  It was a really nice way to kick off the festival of eating and drinking that followed.

I’ve never run with Dave before and it was a real pleasure.  It’s clear he actually follows a training regimen unlike my run-for-fun approach.   He didn’t have much trouble at our pace.  I stuck with him until mile 11 and, looking at the splits, he kept a steady pace while I fell off at the end.  He finished at 1:42:00 which is within a couple minutes of his own half marathon PR.  Not bad for a guy who ran a 3:30-something marathon two weeks ago!

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