Crossing bridges in Chattanooga

I'm about to run one of the hottest races this Saturday in Nashville. The Hillbilly Half in June is always expected to be insanely hot and sunny, but you hope for weather at the end of April to be manageable at the least. It's starting to seem like it will be a scorcher, and the best thing to hope for is to just finish. Which is the exact reason I am not a fan of spring races.

Spring race training is AWESOME. You get to run in cold temperatures for most of your program which makes you feel like a really incredible runner most days. Fortunately, spring races help bring you back to earth and keep you humble. At least that is my experience as someone who runs "hot."

But fall races, those are incredible. In fact, let me tell you about my favorite fall race memory.  

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October 2015 I drove to Chattanooga, Tennessee on Friday the 16th. I had never been to Chattanooga before but was excited about my third full marathon taking place there the next day, and running a Ragnar Relay from there to Nashville the following week. I had trained all summer in horrible heat and was feeling very mentally defeated knowing that I had spent summer training miles much slower than my spring training, and even many of those mile walking. I decided I was going to run with the 4:30 pacers and hope for a PR down from my 4:45:50 spring race.

The start took place before the sun came up, and I can remember running over a bridge or two before there was even the slightest sign of the sunrise. I was running with a group of about 7-8 people, and we were all pretty quiet aside from the advice of how to take on certain hills from our pace leaders. It was a quiet morning, with only 412 full marathoners it seemed very different from my experience with the Rock n Roll race series from the spring Nashville race. 

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In my foggy runner's high memory I believe we started to have conversations around the 17 mile stretch. A girl I had been running with was from NYC and now lived in Georgia and told me how difficult it was to find places to run that weren't hilly there, which made me think of all of my training in Nashville. The last race she had ran left her with a bad injury so she wasn't expecting to do that well here in Chattanooga.

Somewhere around mile 20 we all started to make our own strides and find the pace that felt best at that point. Somehow I had walked so many miles through summer training and now my feet still felt light after 20 miles. I started to pick my pace up a little more and soon found myself pretty distant from all the other people I had been running with in the 4:30 group. Mile 23 came and all I could think was "this is all going by too quick, I need to really take this race in and enjoy every second because it has been perfect and Chattanooga is BEAUTIFUL!" But my legs still carried me almost effortlessly. At the time I only used MapMyRun on my phone and kept it in my pocket so I had no idea what my average pace time was up to that point, and being such a small race there weren't any mats or clocks, just mile markers as stickers on the ground. All I knew was that this marathon was truly fun!

 

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We ran across the pedestrian bridge near Coolidge Park and I could see the area where the finish line was, but I still wasn't sure how far was left to go. Spectators started to be more frequent and the noise was driving my legs even quicker. I turned the corner off the main road and saw the finish line just yards away. I sprinted and could feel the biggest smile on my face as I saw the clock read something around 4:19 and I knew that meant I had earned a huge PR. I saw the girl I had been running with from Atlanta waiting at the finish realizing this meant she too earned a PR and overcame the injury she was worried had ruined her as a runner. It was an awesome victory, and the finish meant pancakes and the largest medal I've ever gotten at a race. 

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When all was said and done and the times had been calculated, my time was 4:16:39, 29 minutes faster than my previous PR. A month later I went on to hit a new PR of 4:11:53, but the Chattanooga Seven Bridges race still stands out in my mind as the best race day I've ever had. A small but mighty race, with sights so beautiful during fall in Tennessee. 

In three days I'll be running a very hot race, but I'll keep in mind that races like this one are earned by the work that I put in when the weather isn't so nice. 

 

Little Red Wagon - Miranda Lambert 

I just had to add this slightly older Miranda song to the playlist. Yesterday I ran 400m repeats and this song made my legs feel weightless for a good number of strides. Take a listen, follow the playlist, and enjoy this next add in its silly but effect ways.  

Run faster...I hear banjos!

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Some races you can't forget. The Hillilly Half in Leiper's Fork is exactly that race.

I didn't want to run it in 2015. At that point it had been a little over a month since I had ran even a mile following the Nashville Rock N Roll full marathon and I couldn't imagine running a half marathon without at least a few training miles. I remember laying out at the pool two days before the race was to happen as a group text ran wild promising those of us not yet convinced that it would be a fun time.

The hard thing about being a runner is that while you're running the race you ask yourself why you would put yourself through it. However, once you cross the finish line your memories of pain and sorrow are completely erased and you will foolishly sign up for five more races that day, minimum.

So there I was, poolside, signing up for a race I hadn't prepared for.

At the time the race was called the Franklin Half Marathon and I had heard horror stories of "heart attack hill" and of the heat that a June race in Tennessee promises. In fact, that morning the weather report was 99% humidity with a temperature in the 90s and the fog from the extreme humidity didn't let up until a few miles into the race. But that's not the most important detail.

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DETAIL. 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼

The thing no one had warned me about - hillbillies. I run by towards the end of the video, 4:57 or so, and while I look like I'm keeping my cool I'm now realizing I have many miles to go for a race where I may have to outrun some very frightening rednecks.

The heat seemed to beat me down quickly, and I can remember struggling to get over some small rolling hills. I was playing the game of "you can walk until the next fence post but then you have to run the entire next mile." I had a cold rag on my neck that was handed out around mile 8 or so, and I always tried to have a water bag in my hand (a water bag is a water filled plastic bag that you bite, then squeeze to get your fluids, an awesome addition to this race). Soon enough I felt so worn out and my walking became more frequent. I finally was able to pick up cell signal and played my current Spotify playlist which started playing the perfect song.

American Kids - Kenny Chesney

I have said since the first time hearing this song that it would forever be my favorite song and it's still true three years following it's release. I tend to be a pretty big fan of anything Shane McAnally has a hand in, so it made sense that this song would be the one to pull me through. 

 "Sister's got a boyfriend / Daddy doesn’t like / Now he’s sittin’ out back, 3030 in his lap / In the blue bug zapper light."

The rhythm of this song in the intro to the lines that stress small town living (and perhaps a redneck's preferred style of life?), I felt rejuvenated and ready to finish up a great race that I could feel proud of. You know, and happy to have survived.

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For a few months this race was my half marathon PR of 2:15:39, even with heart attack hill that is truly no joke. One of the greatest parts of finishing was the sweetest Georgia peach I have ever had from The Peach Truck. That was my first PeachTruck experience and now every summer I wish the season lasted just a few weeks longer.

All in all, this was a fantastic local race and I ended up running it again in 2016. And it turns out those hillbillies populated a whole heck of a lot since the year before. We'll see if I have the guts to run it again this June... 

 

If you are up for the challenge, I highly suggest running this half marathon at least once. This year the route is going the opposite direction, the way I believe it was originally ran, so if you think you have what it takes you can register here: https://register .chronotrack.com/r/22017 

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