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May 1, 2012 / fionarwbl

Nashville Country Music Half Marathon: Humbled

I’ve had a good run at racing recently. I’ve set a couple of PRs, and felt like I was becoming a stronger runner. It might have made me cocky and arrogant. Those days are over. I was well and truly humbled by the Nashville Country Music Half Marathon. The list of mistakes that I made during this race (and a couple of unlucky breaks) was truly phenomenal.

1. Train Appropriately

The last long run I did prior to Nashville was 4 weeks ago.  Between vacation, work, and getting sick, running was not a priority. You cannot expect to race strong if you are not training enough. Simple, right? The previous PRs and strength that I had felt during recent long runs lulled me into a false sense of security. I thought I could rely on latent fitness to muscle through. In some cases, I did – I did actually finish this thing. I just finished it in one of my worst times ever.

2. Know the Course

Something I should have looked at. Also, the scale on this is deceptive, and not in a good way.

Again, another doozy. You would think that given the fact that I had dropped reasonable dough on race fees, flights (twice), and hotel, that I would given the course map and elevation some consideration. I barely looked at the course elevation, and didn’t look at the course map at all. If I had, I would have known it was a mother effing hilly course, especially between miles 2 and 5, but really, the whole way through. I would then (a) have trained on hills (nope, not even a little bit), and (b) have been psychologically prepared for the course and know when to push it and when to ease off. I would have also been able to actually use the course as a way of seeing the city. Instead, I was dying through random but pretty neighborhoods and had no idea what to expect.

3. Get Enough Sleep

This is us at the start. Not well rested, although smiley.

For work reasons, I ended up flying into Nashville around 9pm, and getting to the hotel by 9.30pm. By the time Elena and I had put away our staff and the likes, it was about 10pm and I still hadn’t really eaten. We decided to head to a bar in East Nashville and be home by midnight. This would leave us with 5hrs sleep – not ideal, but ok. Instead, thanks to a huge lack of taxis, we ended up not getting home until 1am, leaving us with just 4hrs of sleep. Definitely not okay. When we woke up we felt fine, but I am certain that it had some impact on my ability to run strong.

4. Manage The Heat

This one is hard for me. By mile 4 or 5 on this course, it was very apparent that the heat was getting to me. I had stopped sweating, my head was hot but my body was freezing, and breathing was incredible labored. I have mentioned before that my Irish blood runs thick, and it can take me a bit of time to acclimatize to the heat every summer. The Nashville race was hot. Seriously hot. I think it ended up being in the low 70s, which doesn’t seem hot when I read it, but with the baking asphalt and lack of shade, was hot enough to make my body extremely uncomfortable. I drank at every station and also doused my head and neck with water to cool me down. The heat was worrisome enough to me that it made me consider whether this would be my first DNF. The lack of visible medical volunteers on the course and the frequent walking breaks I took during the second half of the race were the only things that kept me going.

5. Prepare Your Technology

I usually run with music, a Garmin, and a GPS based iPhone app. Overkill? Yes, sure. For this race, I couldn’t find my headphones, didn’t switch on my iPhone app, and little did I know, but my Garmin hadn’t charged properly, and died approximately half way into the race. Racing naked, then. on a better day, this might not have sucked as badly as it did, but I really needed all the help I could get. I had thought that there would be a lot more music on the course, but it felt like it was mostly focused on the first half of the race.

So, there you have it: all the things that I did wrong. The race went something like this:

Mile 1 – 2 : Feeling awesome! I love racing! Wheeeeee!!!!!

Look how fast my ponytail is swinging!

Mile 3: Tha’s a lot of hills

Mile 4-5: We’re still running uphill?

It was during miles 4 and 5 that I really started to struggle. My legs felt exactly the same as they did at miles 19 and 20 of the NYC Marathon – heavy and overcome by the previous miles of hills. My pace dropped to 9:30s, numbers I havent seen in a race since the marathon.

Mile 5-7: Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit. I think I might die.

Mile 8-9: Slightly less likely to die on the course. May still die in the medical tent afterward.

Mile 9-11: Can this please be over? Please?

Mile 11-12: Nearly done. I will make this.

At this point I met Emilia who was on course to finish under 2hrs and looking strong. It’s not great introducing yourself to someone while you are at your racing worst, but I still kind of did it.

Mile 12: YES! Nearly done.

I’d brought my heart rate down a lot and was less shivery. The entire race that we were with was doing an inelegant shuffle to the finish.

Mile 13: I swear that mile 13 was the longest mile I have ever run in my entire life. We just kept shuffling and shuffling. I tried not to walk but I had to. It was along some highway and we could see the stadium but were not getting any closer. Near tears.

Mile 13.1: Somehow managed a tough it out sprint for the last 0.1

Elena is smiling because once I cross the finish line I'll stop bitching about how miserable I feel

Finish: Thank effing god. I never thought I’d make it.

Once we were done I grabbed water, cold clothes, and sat down in the shade. I felt a little faint but getting out of the sun, drinking water, and cooling myself down were quickly helping me recover. It is also safe to say that I could not have run this race without the support of Elena who, despite being much faster and stronger, stuck with me the whole way, probably scared that if not, I might just expire on the course. Eternally grateful.

20 minutes after the finish: I want to run that race again and show it who’s boss.

Smiling, despite all odds

Once I had recovered enough to start walking again, we headed off into the post-race cornucopia of goods. There was some seriously good post race food to be had. We grabbed frozen strawberries, Gatorade, chocolate milk, yoghurt, pretzels, a Marathon bar, and proceeded to eat it all. What, you don’t think we earned it?

After that we headed to pick up my shirt and make our way back to the hotel for damage assessment. I had been humbled.

This was my first Rock n Roll race, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve read good and bad reviews of their races. My first experience of them was when I discovered to my horror that friends could not pick up bibs for each other. I wasn’t going to get into Nashville until after the expo closed. I didn’t discover this until the Tuesday before the race because, as you might have gathered, I was pretty disorganized about this whole thing. I emailed Rock n Roll, and they came back to me within a day advising me that they had a solution to such issues, advised why they didn’t make it widely known, and confirmed I would be able to run th race. I was pleased with their clear communications, and picking up my bib on Saturday morning was extremely easy.

The race had over 30,000 people running in both the half and the full, but the pre-race area was well organized, and there was coffee, bananas, water, and bagels on hand. The gear check-in went smoothly. The one major issue was that there were clearly not enough portapotties. We joined a line at 5:45am as we had nothing better to do, and did not get to pee until an hour later. After peeing we headed straight to our coral, and only just made it for the national anthem. There were hundreds of people in the line after us.

I didn't really do either in this case.

I loved the wave starts – each corral start approx 3 mins after the previous one, with its own starting horn.Race crowding at the start was minimal, although since we went out with such speedy optimism we actually would have benefited from some crowding!

Finally for the good stuff, as I mentioned before, the swag was awesome. The medal is pretty cool, and I like my t shirt a lot.

Now, onto the not-so-hot. There were some things I thought that Rock N Roll could have done a lot better, and worryingly, they both relate to safety.

The first was that there were no safety warnings about racing in the heat. I was a little surprised by this, considering how large the race is, and how many people travelled to run. Maybe I’m used to the safety conscious NYRR who constantly remind you to drink water and not to try to PR on hot days, but I think that a little more advisory on the heat wouldn’t have hurt anyone.

Secondly, once I realized that I was really suffering, I started to keep my eyes out for race volunteers or medical volunteers. The water stations were obviously manned by volunteers, so if I had really wanted to stop, I could have made it to a water station, but they were about 1.5 miles apart. I specifically did not see any medical volunteers at all, and no other volunteers in between water stations. This concerned me during the race a lot. I know that NYRR races have multitudes of volunteers, and I have volunteered a couple of times, but I never really realized how important and beneficial that was until I didn’t have it. Of course, it could be that there were lots of volunteers, and I didn’t see them, but again, this is a concern. If someone is injured or unwell during a race, there is a good chance they will be panicking and not able to identify help quickly. Volunteers need to be loud and visible.

 As you can probably tell, I am not proud of how I ran this race. However, I am deeply committed to rewriting my half marathon story at Brooklyn on May 19th. I will be sticking my training plan. I will be preparing as best I can. I will learn everything I can about not making the same mistakes twice. And I will be much, much stronger, learning from a bad race.

Not many people can rock a pink boa. Including this guy.

 

Oh, and I will most certainly be back to kick Nashville butt next year. And see this guy.

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10 Comments

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  1. Dori / May 2 2012 1:02 am

    It definitely takes experiencing a non-NYRR race to realize how well-organized they are. I’m sorry you struggled so much but it’s a learning experience and you got to travel to Nashville so there’s still some good!

    • fionarwbl / May 2 2012 2:18 am

      Nashville was amazing! Worth the misery I endured. Plus, now I know what a bad race feels like, so I can be scared of it anymore. I made it through. 🙂

  2. Shaya / May 2 2012 1:31 am

    I have no doubt you’ll rock BK (finish well before me anyway!). Honestly, the fact that you finished this race feeling the way you did is awesome. Maybe not well advised :)…but still awesome in a “we shall overcome” kind of way. ❤

    • fionarwbl / May 2 2012 2:19 am

      Haha, we shall overcome is right. Next time my music and garmin die I shall sing that over and over!

  3. embenton / May 2 2012 3:34 am

    It was so great to meet you! I’m bummed we never found each other at the finish. Sorry you struggled so much, those hills are no joke. Hopefully we’ll meet again at another race soon! 🙂

  4. Jocelyn / May 2 2012 8:22 pm

    I was so surprised at how many people were being taken away by ambulances on the course…scary stuff!!

    Sad I didn’t get to meet you, but definitely sometime SOON! Promise, k?

  5. Kara / May 3 2012 11:30 am

    You finished and you learned from the experience…congrats!! I’ll see you in Brooklyn 🙂

  6. Laura / May 7 2012 10:11 am

    Congratulations on finishing in those tough conditions! Sorry we didn’t get to meet up, but I too want to go back next year. And for what it’s worth, the second half seemed to have plenty of volunteers. Admittedly, not the warnings like NYRR does about hydration, but I think that’s up to the individual anyway, and have always hated how NYRR (and other race orgs like the BAA) baby runners. BAA)

    • fionarwbl / May 7 2012 12:06 pm

      It’s funny – I’ve always ignored the NYRR warnings, but then I missed them when they were gone! We’ll definitely have to have a run date soon 🙂

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  1. Rock N Roll National Half Race Recap – Surprisingly Speedy! | Run Work Breathe Live

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