Last weekend, I ran my 8th half marathon, the Hotlanta Half marathon. It was a doozy. I wrote some notes right away, and then have been reflecting on the race all week. There are a few good lessons coming out of the race, which I’ll get to after the recap. Grab a beverage, this one is long!
Carrie was nice enough to drive us down and we parked in her office parking lot and walked to the start. We met up with my friend Kristen, used the potties, and waited around before warming up and getting into our corral. As a reminder, I decided to run this race without looking at my Garmin at all, since it wasn’t a goal race for me.
Miles 1-3 (10:16/9:46/9:16): It was hot and humid – around 75 at the start, and it felt like there was no air movement. I lined up at the beginning of my corral (D) right behind the 2:20 pace group, and then we were off!
We hit a hill pretty early and then there were a lot of downhills that followed. I was feeling a little winded, but was still able to talk, so I was trying to get into a good groove. I passed the 2:20 pace group pretty early on and that was really the only indication of how fast I was going.
Miles 4-6 (10:14/10:50/10:39): Shortly into the 4th mile I came up on another pace group; at first I thought it was the 2:15 pace group. There wasn’t a 2:15 pace group, it was actually the 2:10 pace group. I had a brief moment of confusion, since my PR is 2:10 and I wasn’t planning on PRing this race (or even coming close). I started questioning how I felt and if I needed to slow down. I decided to just roll with it and see what happened.
We then hit the first major hill and I felt the wheels falling off. I started getting dizzy (looking back at my HR, I can see why…I was pushing 200!) so I took a quick walk break to get it down and get myself together. I took my first gel around this time. I started trudging along again, and then took ANOTHER walk break through the hydration station at the end of mile 4. It was around this time that I started questioning why in the hell I signed up for a half marathon in Atlanta in June, and I started going to the “Holy crap there are still 9 miles left” place in my head. I remembered my half last July that was pretty terrible around this point as well, and told myself I was going to turn it around, and to run the mile I was in.
During mile 5 I slowed down a bit, and combined with some downhills, got my heart rate down. My singlet was not breathing though, and I was SO HOT, so I pulled off the course to move my bib to my shorts and take off my shirt. I felt a bit better after that, even though I lost probably a minute or more doing it. I walked through the water stop at the end of mile 6. I really was struggling mentally during these miles still. I even briefly considered finishing out the race with run/walk intervals. I talked myself into getting to mile 7, because I knew we’d be on a flat part of the course and there was a big cheer station there.
Miles 7-9 (10:08/10:20/11:08): Most of these miles were on the Beltline with a slight decline which really helped so much, both physically and mentally. We saw the Atlanta Track Club out cheering right where they said they’d be (and FULL of energy!), and then we got PowerIce freeze pops around mile 8.5 (I walked to eat this). I started feeling better and cruising along, I was so happy that I’d be done with the race soon.
Miles 10-13.1 (10:29/10:32/10:35/10:48): During the 10th mile I took a walk break after a hill to take a gel. To say I was ready to be done was an understatement. We ran through the park and I took a walk break at the mile 11 water stop, and then the course took us up a GIANT hill coming out of the park which I ran up (no walking). Runningnerds was at the top of that hill with iced down washcloths and a lot of energy which was GREAT. Suddenly, while I was running, I started feeling occasional muscle spasms/cramps in my right calf. It was fleeting though, so I just tried to keep myself as loose as possible. About halfway through mile 12 it cramped up again really bad, and I had to stop completely to stretch it out. I could also feel it down by my Achilles which freaked me out. I stopped and stretched for at least 30 seconds or more.
During the last mile, there was a significant and long uphill and I was feeling the cramp while going up, so I decided to walk it. I was super angry walking it, because I felt so ridiculous walking when I knew there was less than a mile left. I thought about Richmond though, and decided that getting to the start line healthy was way more important.
Once it started feeling better I ran again, and I was able to finish out the race running. I came up on the 2:20 pace group right at the end, and was happy to see that I was going to finish around the same time as Savannah. My official time was 2:18:02, which is about a minute faster than Savannah in April, and 2 minutes faster than Rock n Roll Chicago last year. Given that this race was hilly and I am not in racing shape, I am very happy with this time!!
Reflections & Takeaways
I didn’t look at my Garmin during this race at all, so I spent a lot of time analyzing my data after the race. One thing that surprised me after the race is that I was struggling for much of this race and felt like I was working really hard, but didn’t think I was going fast (pace wise)….in fact, I felt like I was barely moving/slogging along. Looking back at my data though, I was running VERY fast….most of the race I was running between 9:30-10; with the walk breaks, it came out to about 10:30 average pace. Given the conditions and how I’ve been running, I expected to run around a 10:30 pace, which means I probably should have started around an 11 pace.
The first few miles were a net downhill and I clearly went out WAY too fast – you can see this not just in my time but also in my heart rate. I consequently got murdered during the 4thmile when I hit that hill. And things got really, really rough after that. I always feel like the first few miles are hard until I get really into the groove around mile 3 or 4 though, so I’m having trouble figuring out what hard is “okay” and what is too hard. This is something I really want to work on during my training for Richmond.
I wondered if I had looked at my watch if I would have actually slowed down and not had to walk as much. I was legit surprised to see how fast I was running when I looked at my splits later.
I talked to my coach about it, and she gave me some good perspective. I ran RnR Chicago last July completely OBSESSED with my pace and watch, and then I went watch-less for this race. However, I really didn’t need to go without my Garmin. I’m a much different runner now in how I use and react to the data when I run. I don’t let my pace dictate success or failure, instead, I use it as a tool to help me adjust my strategy. I don’t need to run a race without my watch right now, but it can be a good tool to help me run a strong race. In this next training cycle, I’m going to focus on using my watch as a tool to help me execute better.
Other notes: My legs got tired early. I haven’t been doing heavy strength training…really just the PT/Biomechanics exercises. I also have had low mileage and I was working hard during the race, but I was surprised at how early I started feeling it, probably around mile 6. My legs were very twitchy Sunday evening and were sore for several days after the race. Also, I felt good about my hydration & fuel (both pre-run and during the race).
Heat, hills, and humidity: Hotlanta Half Race Recap #runatl Click To Tweet
I’m not sure why I signed up for this race, but I don’t regret doing so. It’s a challenging course and conditions, but the medal is fantastic! It’s a double-spinner and I love that it has the skyline on it.
The race isn’t expensive, and was well organized and put on. I really like how the race photos were complimentary. I wouldn’t recommend this race as a goal race or as a first half marathon, but it’s a good option for base-building prior to marathon training or to just have something on the calendar.
I’m proud of how this one turned out. It wasn’t easy and I could have done better, but I learned a lot and it was a good opportunity to be okay with failing. I have a lot of things from this race I’ll be able to apply in my training, and I’m looking forward to seeing how my next half will go (which will be halfway through marathon training, in September). Next up, training for the Richmond Marathon!!