Women's Running Series: Nashville Half Marathon

The sun is rising and we're ready to run!

My sister, Katie, and I just returned from an AMAZING sister's weekend in Nashville, where we both ran the Women's Half Marathon!  This was Katie's fifth time running a Half Marathon, and technically my second (but I'm considering it my first time running the whole race because my first Half in 2007 consisted of limping/walking the majority of the race thanks to a knee injury).  Katie and I both had an awesome race and blew our goal times out of the water!  

The race started at the Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville.  There was a lot of enthusiasm and excitement before the start of the race, and a strong sense of camaraderie as well.  Over 2200 women participated in the Half!  We saw several groups of friends, couples, mother-daughter duos, and even a few bachelorette parties.  (And we kept our eyes peeled in case Taylor Swift decided to make an appearance!)  

This race offered pacers from the Nashville Striders running club.  I've been reading up on pacer groups, and basically the advantage is that these experienced runners can motivate other runners to commit to a consistent pace and achieve a PR.  However, pacers can be tricky to stick with in crowded races or routes with a lot of hills, which can be mentally defeating, and I also didn't see the pacers stopping at the water/fuel stops, so this can also create missed opportunities and less-than-optimal running energy.  From competitor.com: "Relying 100% on a pace group is not how you should approach and plan your goal race. Instead, you should learn to use the pace group to your advantage – by stalking them.  Stalking a pace group means using the pace group as a marker and for motivation during the race, but relying on your own sense of pace (or watch) and natural strengths and weaknesses when it comes to executing your race strategy. This plan allows you to implement the race strategy you’ve trained for and is optimal for you."  Katie and I decided not to commit to a pacer group because we wanted to play it by ear and find a comfortable speed, but we did start with the 2:15 pacer group and then tried to stay ahead of them for the majority of the race.

The first couple miles were uphill along Broadway (the main street for live music and nightlife in Nashville), and we were feeling strong enough to push it up the hill and pass a lot of runners to get out of the pack.  We ran through Vanderbilt campus and around Centennial Park, where we joked about taking a detour to the craft fair.  The course was hillier than I expected for Nashville, but Katie and I enjoyed it!  My sister kicked butt on the uphills!  

I felt myself needing to slow down around mile 4 but was still feeling strong and maintained about a 10 minute/mile pace.  There were a lot of loud and rambunctious cheer groups -- rowdy local cheerleading squads, families and kids with homemade posters ("You can do your best," lol!), enthusiastic sorority members with matching shirts, and off-campus fraternity guys up early on a Saturday morning.  The middle of the race coursed through Belmont University and there were lots of spectators.  The course had a U-turn around mile 6, so we were able to cheer on the fast groups on their return trip down the main road.  I was so impressed by the 1:30 and 1:45 pacer groups!  I started getting more tired after about an hour and made sure to grab some Gu and water at the 7 mile stop.  I had made a last minute decision to wear my fuel belt and was thankful to have a little water with me throughout the race.

At the 8.5 mile marker there were spectators in superhero costumes (apparently the Wizard World Comic Convention was the same weekend!) with really inspirational postures along the lines of "You just dominated 8.5 miles of pure fury!"  After the 9 miler marker, the race got tough.  My left knee started to kill and I felt numb.  I slowed down a lot and could feel a general slump in energy.  The runners around me just didn't have the energy to "Woo!" and "Yay!" with the spectators anymore, and there weren't as many people around.  However, I knew I was still on track to exceed my goal time even I decelerated to 11 minute miles, and four miles remaining seemed like nothing!

Then we reached the 10 mile mark and only had 5K to go!  I thought about all the 5Ks I've done after biking and swimming and knew I could finish strong.  At 11 miles I was dragging my feet but felt motivated by the fact that this was now farther than I had ever run continuously before.  At this point the race headed back into the downtown area for one more short loop.  At 12 miles I started counting the number of breaths that I would breathe for the final 10 minutes.  The last mile was downhill, but a lot of racers were walking at this point.  I was determined to run all the way to the end!  The 2:15 pacer group still hadn't caught up to me so I knew I was on track.  The course went through downtown, turned a corner and the finish line was in sight.  I picked up the pace for the last 50 meters and finished in 2:13:46.  My sister was waiting for me at the finish line and she was excited about her race too and her finishing time of 2:06:09!  We both received fabulous cowgirl medals!

The finish line

Crossing the finish line!


We love our bling!
The post-race party included live music, yoga, mimosas, smoothies and a beauty bar.  Sadly, I was unable to partake in the festivities because of some post-race stomach issues and dehydration, but after a few long naps we celebrated with a fancy dinner and night out.

I was really happy with the organization of this race and the course, and I absolutely loved Nashville!  I would love to do this race again.  Katie has her hopes on a sub-2:00 Half Marathon next time around and I definitely think it's within her reach.  The hubby and I are running the Moab Half Marathon on our anniversary in three weeks, and my goals are to 1) set a new PR, 2) figure out a better strategy for fuel and hydration during the race to prevent post-race nausea, and 3) work on my left knee in the upcoming weeks by focusing on core (and maybe getting new shoes) so I can finish even stronger!

In related news, while I was celebrating my 2:13:46 Half Marathon, Dennis Kimetto of Kenya ran a FULL MARATHON in 2:02:57 this weekend in Berlin, setting a new world record!  The thought of that extreme speed sustained for 26.2 miles is just totally unfathomable to me.  There is no physical way I could even run a half mile at that pace (2 minutes 20 seconds for 800 meters), and in fact it would be extremely challenging for me to even run ONE LAP at that pace (1 minute 10 seconds per lap)!  I am so amazed by the extreme athleticism that exists out there and I hope to see more female runners set new records in upcoming years.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post about "Tips for Traveling to a Race"...


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