Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Race Report: Country Music Half Marathon

Alternatively titled Run Like You're Running From a Tornado!

This past week I had the great opportunity to run the Country Music 1/2 as part of the Nashville Striders Pace Team for the event. I was super excited to be running with a group and helping to lead them across the line in 2:15.

The weather forecast was a bit foreboding throughout the week leading up to the event. I wasn't all that concerned with the talk of rain. Honestly, I'm not even that concerned about running in a thunderstorm, lightning and all (been there, done that). It was more the talk of hail and tornados that concerned me, but I wasn't about to worry about it.

The weather on Friday was warm and sunny, and I left work a bit early to hit up the race expo. Part of my requirement for running as a pacer was to attend a "Meet the Pacer" clinic so that the runners could meet the pacers. After I did that, I took a sweep of the expo. Being a Brooks girl, I loved that all the official race gear was Brooks... but I didn't really need any of it so I quickly looked at it and moved on.

Other than my purchase of the iFitness belt and the Power Balance bracelet, there was very little that interested me. I felt like the expo was considerably smaller than previous years, and there seemed to be way less interesting stuff. Not only that, but I only managed to come home with pain reliever samples and a sample of dog treats. Hmmm.... I was less than impressed.

By the time I went to bed Friday night it was lightly raining, but it seemed pretty dry when I got up at 4:30am. (SO early!) The forecast seemed promising, and it looked like the rain wasn't moving back in until much later.

I got up, got ready and then headed out with my parents and college pal Jenny who were all going to watch the race.

Ready to go even though the sun hasn't come up yet! The big sign was used in the corral to help people find me, and I ran with the little sign.

The Country Music 1/2 and Full both start at Centennial Park and finish near the Titans Stadium. Since it's point to point, most people park at the stadium and take the shuttles to the start. I know better than to get mixed up in that traffic jam, so my parents were just going to drop me off a few blocks from the start. We went flying past all of the traffic on the interstate waiting to get off to go to the stadium, and I really felt bad for everyone. It's my opinion that they've let this race get a little bit bigger than they can handle, and it seems like the back-up in the line for the shuttles (both for the cars trying to get there and then the people waiting in line to get on one) is a bit excessive.

Me ready to walk a few blocks to the start after saying bye to my people.

Since I was part of the pace team, I had access to the VIP tent. It was pretty exciting to have some snacks, use portapotties that very few people were allowed to use, and to see the elite athletes jogging around to warm up. I didn't recognize any of them, and I didn't have a camera on me to take any pictures... but it was still pretty cool.

Next thing I knew, they were telling us we needed to get lined up because they were starting the race early at 6:45!!!

Now - due to the ominous weather, we had already been notified that the full marathoners might be diverted at the split for the half if they weren't there by a certain time. I felt this was an appropriate decision. But deciding to start the race early and not tell anyone until right before it happened? Not so cool. I kind of felt like if they were going to do that, they needed to decide at least the day before so that at a minimum they could post it at the expo and send out an email to all participants. A LOT of people missed starting on time and were NOT happy about it. In fact, one of the elites was still in the bathroom when the gun fired!

So I made my way as quickly as I could to my corral and put up my sign to show that I was the 2:15 leader. People immediately flocked around me. It was actually kind of funny. I started chatting with everyone and quickly found out I had people in my group from Chicago, Philadelphia, SC, IA, and AL. I'm sure there were more, but it stood out to me how many people I had from out of town.

I had a very simple strategy for pacing. I wanted to try to be consistent, but I knew we'd slow down a bit on some of the early hiller miles. My big thing was to try to keep up with how much I needed to make up as the course leveled out a bit later in the race.

I am used to talking the entire time I run a half, but what I wasn't prepared for was yelling. It never occurred to me that I'd have to yell any time I said anything in order to make sure everyone heard me. It was really tiring, but I'm still glad that I spent a lot of time talking with my group. I tried to point out Nashville things along the way as well as encourage them up hills and point out water stops and bathrooms. I answered questions, and we all tried to cheer each other along.

It was SO cool running as a pacer. I definitely had a blast, but I also felt the pressure. I really had to stay on top of checking the time each mile. I had been given the wrong pace band the day before, so I didn't even have the splits to look at... I was trying to do the math in my head... and we all know I'm terrible at math! Nonetheless, I was making it happen.

You have to look closely, but I'm on the other side of the road cheering and waving. I made my group holler and wave anytime we saw spectators that I knew!

This photo shows you the massive crowd of runners! It also illustrates how you can see me coming due to the sign even though you can't see me!

So here's the other thing about the Nashville race that I don't like - the race has outgrown the course. It is SO crowded. And the most crowded section is Belmont Blvd. You run down on one side and back up the other, so you have a very limited amount of space. And with 30,000+ runners? It's just not a big enough road to run up and down. I really believe the course needs to be changed so you only run down it one direction. Just an opinion.

If you can get past dude in the sweatband (I mean, really... it's not the 80s mister), you see that I'm about to hand off my hat to my dad. I always wear one when it rains, but since it was not raining and it was MUGGY I was burning up. By this point (about mile 7), I didn't have a dry piece of gear on because I was sweating so much. I had to ditch the hat.

Since a lot of the people in my group were from up north, most of them were really struggling with the humidity. It wasn't that the temperatures were all that hot, but it felt like it was about 80 degrees. The impending storm was making it incredibly warm and muggy, and it sucked! We haven't had enough warm days here yet for me to be acclimated to it. Some of my group had to start dropping off. I hated to see them go because I ended up not getting to see them again later (crowds!!!), but I hope they all did well and were pleased with their experience.

I saw a handful of friends along the course who cheered for me, and it was so exciting each time to hear my name and see people I know. In particular, my pals Ben, Marianna and Bennett. Thanks y'all!

Over the last couple of miles, I only had a handful of people still with me. One gal was totally feeling great and was able to take off and leave us. I was super excited for her. There was one guy who ended up running with me the whole time, and he was super cool. I really enjoyed getting to chat and get to know the people running with me. I kind of hate that I'll never see them again, but it definitely made it a fun experience for me. I only hope it was just as fun for them.

My favorite sign that I saw along the course was, "Run like you're running from a tornado!" I thought it was super clever considering the impending weather.

Over the last 15 minutes I was on the course, the clouds started rolling in and it instantly cooled off. I won't lie - I wish it had done it sooner. I was HOT and I was DRAINED.

Before long, we crossed the last bridge to head to the finish.

Here I am just before the 13 marker. The guy in all grey ran with me the whole time and was super awesome!

We crossed the line in 2:14:52! I had really hoped to get my group across a few seconds under, and I was thrilled to pull it off. I gave the people still with me high fives. I was honestly a little loopy at this point... I really believe that I had gotten overheated out there even though I was running so much slower than I'm used to doing. People that I hadn't seen before started coming up and telling me they'd been running with me the last few miles even though they hadn't said anything on the course. It was really cool to hear that, and I was super excited to have been able to help them.

I hit up the finish line VIP tent to get my bag and to try to eat a little, but I couldn't get much down. It's a real shame because they had some awesome food up in there for us!

As the storm rolled in, I made my way to try to find my family and Jenny.

Even though this is officially my slowest half ever, I felt really proud of the accomplishment! It was so great to help other people run.

It did start raining a bit, and I had to wait a little while for my people to make it to me. I got a little cold considering I didn't have on any dry clothing.

Fortunately, I packed a garbage bag and was able to use it to warm up a bit.

My people found me and I got a few pictures with a few friends, but since it was started to for real storm, I decided we should head on out. Normally I would have hung around and tried to locate more people that I knew out there, but I was really ready to get home and take a hot shower.


Since we had to walk across the pedestrian bridge anyways, I decided to stop for a photo with downtown Nashville behind me. It looks a little nicer on a sunny day... and without a girl in a trash bag in front of it.

As we walked to where the car was parked, the storm was really setting in. There was a thunderclap that caused pretty much everyone on the bridge to jump. Soon enough we were in the car and heading home. I spent the afternoon sleeping soundly in my bed while it stormed and poured rain outside. Fortunately, no tornados came out way.

If you keep up with races, you'll know that there was a bit of chaos about the runners caught in the storm. Most half runners were allowed to finish from what I understand, but the marathon runners were diverted at several different places. I have mixed feelings. I can understand needing to make a decision to call the race short due to severe weather... but I felt like they were not organized and didn't communicate clearly about it all.

All in all, I had a pretty good experience. Nashville is the home race for me, and I've run the full twice and the half twice. Would I run it again? Honestly, I wouldn't pay to do it. I'd pace again since the perk of being a pacer is getting a free registration... but since I've done it several times I don't have the desire to pay for it again. I'd rather pay to run races I haven't run yet.

Still, I recommend that everyone run this race at least once. It IS a lot of fun, and I think it's totally worth it.

But I would never pay to do it more than once. I really believe the race organizers have gotten a bit full of themselves. The race gets more expensive every year, and I feel like the quality is getting worse. It's too big for the shuttle service and too big for the course. The expo wasn't as good this year, and they didn't have water stations every single mile (which in a huge race like this is a MUST). I didn't see as many bathrooms along the course. I'm not trying to knock it too much - I totally mean it when I say it's worth doing once. But I can't help but share what I think are the negative aspects if for no other reason than out of the hope that maybe someone associated with the race might read this and realize that as a runner, I'm become disenchanted with this event.. and I'm not afraid to share the bad PR.

Nonetheless, it was a terrifically fun time for me to run as a pacer. I will totally do that again if I'm given the opportunity. I absolutely loved getting to encourage other runners along the way.

11 comments:

runnernic.com said...

Great job girl! So cool that you were the pacer and able to get them just under 2:15!!! :) way to go girl!!!

emily said...

great recap! i loved reading about it from a pacer perspective!! i feel like that is RIGHT up your ally :) great job!!

Ben said...

Hey - That's me in the fourth picture (the one where you can't see you)! I'm wearing the yellow shirt.

Love to Run said...

Melanie,

This was a really nice race report. Sounds like you had a lot of fun and you certainly helped a lot of runners achieve their goals. The way you described being a pacer makes me want to try it sometime. I think I would be good at it but who knows.

By the way, I think the girl on the bridge in the garbage bag is extremely pretty. My opinion.

Amy said...

Yay!!!!! Congrats!!!

Kimberly300 said...

ya girl I heard some horror stories about the race this year.. my daughters birthday was Saturday and I'm so glad I am able to use that as an excuse to NEVER run in that mess.. :)

you did great though.. very nice job!

志源 said...
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High Heels and Huntin' Boots said...

Just stumbled onto your blog. How cool that you were a pacer! I think that would be a lot of fun! Sounds like the humidity was quite awful. I would have died. Running in the heat drains me completely! Congrats on getting another half under your belt!

d.a.r. said...

I loved reading about this!!! It really sounds like the CM Marathon has grown into a cluster...you know what.

the dawn said...

Nice! I have been wondering if there were any pacer/bloggers around to share their experiences. The world of the "pacer" fascinates me, and I've been curious for awhile how they plan their races. Was this your first time pacing? Did they give you any instruction regarding the quirks of the course or suggestions for reaching your goal? I've never run with a pacer, but I've heard so many people find success in using their services. Thanks for sharing your story!

Amanda said...

Thanks for the great review! I am running the full next weekend & trying to do some recon work to see what to expect. Hopefully the weather will be better & the race more organized. I'm sad to hear that it's gotten too big :(