By: Dawn Garland
Winner, winner, chicken dinner- THAT RACE IS DONE, Y'ALL! (If you've been following me, you know that I'm referring to the Hot Chocolate 15K that I had been training for post foot injury.) So if you're here for the recap, you've come to the right place.
First let me say that the lovely people and volunteers who put on the race did a super swell job this year at the expo. Check in was an absolute breeze. As was picking up my parking pass and goody bag. The DJ was playing fun music and everyone was upbeat.
Some of the highlights? The ginormous inflatable mug o' cocoa. There were lots of these fun inflatables everywhere to have your photo taken in front of. I am fairly certain that many people's Facebook profile pictures were changed over the weekend. They teased us with teeny samples of hot chocolate and chocolate fondue to remind us why we were really doing this race.
They even had step and repeats to take photos in front of. (I've decided that next year, I'll be wearing a cocktail dress for these. You know, so people will think a celebrity is running in the race.)
I will have to tell you guys that I am so very glad that I chose Saturday to pick up my number instead of Friday. Why? Because happening in basically the same location were the race expo, a national cheerleading competition, a massive poultry farmers exhibit, and the legendary Battle of the Bands. You have never and I mean NEVER seen this assortment of people all in the same place at the same time and it was GLORIOUS. I should have just pulled out a tailgate chair and live tweeted the whole thing, if we're being honest.
I left the expo with my new drawstring bag, hoody, and hat in hand full of confidence (or possibly just on a sugar high) for the run the next day. Now, the route had been changed for the race from previous years. Also, 5K runners were going to be running along with 15K runners until about mile 2.5. I was slightly concerned this might cause quite the quagmire, but then realized that they'd be releasing us in waves, so it might not be too terribly bad. I headed to my hotel, checked in, enjoyed my traditional pre-race dinner of a steak salad, and was in pajama pants and drinking coconut water and a hot tea by 7:30 that night. Ah, the enviable life I do lead...
Race morning began at 4:45. HAHAHAHAHA. I know- that sounds like a made up time. But, I assure you, it's an actual time. And people actually get up then. ON PURPOSE! My major decision at that point was which cold gear running ensemble was going to get selected for the day. Did I mention it was about 30 degrees? Seriously, y'all. WHY DO I DO THIS??
So, with many layers on, I headed south in the dark to Turner Field. Not too much to report from the parking lot. It was dark. It was cold. Did my pre-race fueling with a Zero Impact Protein Bar and some C4 pre-workout drink. I people watched. I gawked at those wearing shorts in the freezing weather. Typical race morning for yours truly.
At around 7:00, I realized that I couldn't, in fact, run the race from inside my car. So, I made my way to the starting corrals. The DJ was playing fun music again and whipping the crowd up. I found myself near some lovely individuals who were already planning their biscuits-and-gravy- eating-adventure after the race. (I whole-heartedly approved, of course.) And then suddenly, we were off!
That first mile was a little slow and awkward since we were all trying to figure out where we were going and getting out of each others' way. But then, we all settled in. We ran through beautiful old Atlanta neighborhoods and past cute restaurants. The route took us through parts of town I'd never seen. And parts that I'd run through in previous races. I ran past a restaurant that had the best nachos I've ever had. I ran past the tattoo place that has special significance and smiled. These are the moments on runs that make me happy. Remind me of people and memories that I love. Distract me from "8 more miles...7 more miles..."
We split off from the 5K-ers at mile 2.5 and everything was going swimmingly. Last year's route had been hills on top of hills with some hills thrown in for fun. The new route had none of those and I got cocky. "Wooooo! Killing it!!" And then I got to...mile 7. Sweet fancy Moses- it seemed like mile 7-8 was all up hill. ALL OF IT. My hamstrings were all: "I'm sorry- we did not sign up for this." You could tell from most of the runners' body language that their hamstrings were in agreement with mine. We struggled to the top and took a breath. Only to realize that there were, in fact, more hills. Yep. The last 2.3 miles of the race were actually the hilliest sections. By then, it was basically sheer will that was powering all of us to the finish and our chocolate. There were a few runners that I passed with only a mile left who had stopped to walk. I wanted to say "NO! DON'T STOP!! YOU'VE COME SO FAR AND THERE'S ONLY A MILE LEFT!!!"
I came down a hill and around a corner and there it was- the finish line. Hallelujah. I crossed it, stopped my running app, and nearly cried at my accomplishment. I did it. I came back from an injury and ran 9.3 miles. I'd successfully trained and completed what I set out to do.
And I had the hardware to prove it. We got our medals before we got our chocolate. Which was probably a smart move because by the time you get to your treats, you kind of don't care about anything else. Wait- is that just me? No?
hat mug of chocolatey goodness hit the spot. And let me tell you, after you've just run 9 miles, you feel ZERO guilt for anything you are eating. Did I crush my time from last year? No. Did I place in my age division? No. Did any of that matter? No. I had a goal. I achieved that goal. I won.
But the work isn't over. I'm moving the mark again. Just like I did for myself last year. Next up- the Chick Fil A Half Marathon. I'll be completely changing my workout and training regiment starting next week. New strength training. Going to start doing both interval and (gulp) hill training. So, stick with me. I'll be telling you guys about the highs and lows. How it's going. What I'm eating. And all that good stuff.
More importantly- don't forget you can tell me what YOU are doing. I want to hear from you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter- @ReluctRunner. Find a race. Set a goal. Smash it. Be the boss of you.
Till next time, run on...
Dawn Garland is a native of Tampa, FL. She reads, she writes, she knits and does not believe that any college football conference can live up to the SEC. Dawn works at the University of Georgia as an analyst/consultant and her biggest accomplishment in life so far is the walking talking sports almanac that is her eight year old son.