Registration was done online and it was a royal pain in the rear. I had just driven home in pouring rain from the ING Georgia half marathon and tried to get through to active.com to register. It took me about 7 tries before I was finally successful. I was one of the last ones to get in and I've heard that many others could not. There has got to be some sort of change in the registration process. It's essentially a lottery based on one's network connection. Serious runners are turned away in favor of walkers who exercise once a year. My proposal is to set a qualifying standard for guaranteed entry that is easily attainable for a person with average ability and is free from debilitating injury or illness who trains at about 20 MPW. Make it 55:00 for men under 40 and 60:00 for women. Then, you could fill the remaining spots through a lottery so therefore, nobody is technically shut out from participating and less talented athletes will become more motivated to reach the standard. In any event, I would be participating in the largest 10K in the world. More than 50,000 runners would finish this year.
It was not a very good cycle overall. I battled thyroid symptoms, GABA deficiency and an upper respiratory infection. Those issues in addition to the summer heat and humidity had kept my weekly mileage down to about 30/wk over the past 6 weeks. That just won't do. However, I felt as if I had turned the corner in the past week after switching to from GABA to glutamine supplements and getting the infection completely out of my system. I had completed 4 straight runs of 3-6 miles all at sub-7 pace without a rest day. Friday would be a recovery jog and Saturday would be rest day.
No significant adventures here. I arrived in Atlanta by lunchtime and met my buddy Nick for pizza at Mellow Mushroom. From there, we headed to the expo, where I purchased a pair of overpriced running shorts. Dinner was a 22 oz. Porterhouse at Longhorn's and as usual, I left only the bone behind. The race would start at 7:30 Eastern time, which means that we would have to get up at 5 AM (felt like 4 AM) but the advantage was that we would beat the heat. 7:30 in Atlanta is probably the equivalent of 6:45 in Birmingham because of the time zone difference. As for the weather, I really can't complain. It was only 67 at the start and about 73 at the finish with sunny skies and 70% humidity so the heat wasn't much of a factor. That's about as favorable running conditions as you can expect for Atlanta in July. I felt good when I woke up and good warming up. A PR (41:43) would be a tall order today especially on that course but I did predict a sub-43 (less than 7:00 pace).
Course and strategy:
Relatively flat first mile with a mild incline in the last half but it was early enough that you barely even noticed it. From there, the course went gradually but steadily downhill for the next 1.5 miles and the downhill got a bit steeper towards the bottom. After that, we climbed "cardiac hill," a climb, followed by a curve in the road, and finally an even steeper climb after the curve. All told, the hill was 3/4 mile long and made up the lost elevation from the previous decline. After a brief downhill, we went back up for most of the 5th mile then the finish would be mostly downhill. The plan was to conserve energy early with a first mile just a hair under 7:00 and keep the effort even on both the downhill and uphill. Then, if I had anything left after cardiac, I would let it loose but I expected that I would be beat up by then and would have to push hard just to maintain my pace.
Because of my sub-42 at Vulcan, I qualified for sub-elite status so I would not have to dodge any slow runners and my start was fairly smooth. In the first mile, we were treated to patriotic music honoring the greatest country on the face of the Earth. Yes, I said it. I'm usually out too fast in 5Ks and 10Ks but today, I was able to rein in my energy and my first 1/4 mile was around 1:40 (6:40 pace), just a tad ahead of schedule. Throughout the first mile, I had to fight through a little bit of traffic and had to be aware of the median in the center of the road. I stayed on the right side because traffic was a bit thinner and overall, I don't think that it slowed my pace significantly. The first mile passed comfortably in 6:44, just a tad fast but based on how I felt, I "might could" run a little better than expected. I knew that I would gain some time on the upcoming decline but I kept looking at my Garmin and saw that it was not a significant change of pace. Should I increase my effort here? No, I better not. I know what's coming. Nick and I had driven the course the previous day. The 2nd mile was a little slower than expected but since the 1st was faster, let's call it even. Finally, my pace quickened a bit as the downhill got steeper but with about .15 to go in the 3rd mile, we had reached the bottom and it was soon time to head up cardiac. The hill was not too bad early and I hit the split button on my Garmin to find that my 3rd mile was almost the same speed as the second. I was still on target for a good time and felt pretty well. The hill flattened briefly as the road curved. Halfway there now and it's starting to hurt. Just keep the effort even. Despite hurting, I was surprised by how well I was holding the pace. Even as I neared the summit, I looked down to see a paces around 7:10-7:15. The thought of a PR actually entered my mind at this point. As we passed the hospital that gave the hill it's name, I heard a spectator yell out "All downhill from here." YOU LIE! We did have a short downhill afterwards but for me, Mile 5 would be the hardest of all. Most of this mile would be a gradual incline. Although it wasn't very steep, its length was the killer. With 2 miles to go, I would need 6:30s to PR. Not likely. A sub-42 was slipping away as well but the predicted time of a high 42 was well within reach and my 2nd best time of 42:30 seemed doable as well. Now, with a little more than 1 mile to go, I increased my effort as the course went back downhill. Although I never felt terribly uncomfortable at any time, my legs just would not go much faster. The hills in the previous 2 miles had simply taken too much out of me. Near the end of Mile 6, there was another uphill grade for about a 1/4 mile. Now, that wasn't very nice! Thankfully, that would be the last of the hills. 6 miles down and about 1/4 mile to go now. Can I break 42:30? Do I want it bad enough? It's going to be close but this downhill sure is boosting my pace. 100 yards to go. Sub- 42:30 is mine if I want it bad enough. I do. I crossed the line in an official time of 42:27 (best time of the year), 2nd best of all time.
I was not completely exhausted at the end and felt that I may have left about 10-15 seconds out there. I certainly wasn't taking any chances with it being sunny and 70 degrees. One thing about the heat is that it tends to hit you suddenly and in my tempo runs, my paces fell off significantly after Mile 3. I did have the pleasure of meeting several people from the Atlanta chapter of Christian Runners. Overall, I was quite pleased with my race and my strategy. Put me out there in November on a flatter course and I would have been very close to a PR.
6:44 (6:44) nice and comfy
6:37 (13:21) slower than I wanted, downhill
6:35 (19:56) ouch time is beginning
7:03 (26:59) very good mile up cardiac, can I PR?
7:02 (34:01) answer is no
6:55 (40:56) not much left, how bad do I want it?
1:31 (42:27) 5:48 pace for .27. I wanted it.
Pace per mile: 6:48. Overall place: 819 out of 50,044 (98th percentile)
My best shot at a PR this fall is a race in Mobile in early November. My friend Rebecca ran it last year and set a PR by almost a minute. My lifetime goal is a sub-40. That seems a bit too ambitious this year but I think a sub-41 is well within reach if I can train properly.