Last fall, I sat down with my laptop and started researching and planning the races that I was wanted to tackle in 2016. I had been wanting to do the Publix Marathon in Atlanta for a few years now and since we had some friends that moved just outside Atlanta earlier in the year, I decided to add Georgia to the list for 2016. One of my best friends Mike had also been looking for a spring race just to give him a reason to train through the winter, and he decided that he was going to run Atlanta as well. Mike is a Boston Qualifier with a marathon PR of under 3:05, in other words, much faster than me. After he registered he sent me a text and told me that we were going to not only get me a PR, but he was going to pace me for under 4 hours! Through hard work, pain, happiness, discomfort, and many other feelings, this is the story of my Publix Georgia Marathon.
Race: Publix Georgia Marathon
Location: Atlanta, GA
Finishing Time: 3:59:28
Starting in December, I stuck to a pretty strict training plan, preparing my body and mind for the challenge ahead. Birmingham was not meant to be a tough marathon but rather just used to gauge my body from the training. To Coach Mikes displeasure, I only had 4 weeks between my race in Birmingham and Atlanta. Once I finished Birmingham, he worked with me to compile a training plan for the weeks between races. He gave me comfort in letting me know that the “training” was over, with all the work I put in the last few months, and that we were going to maintain it before tapering. Mike knew the struggles that I had late last year and he worked to find a way to make sure that didn’t happen in Atlanta.
|Text from Mike about registration, 4 hour goal, taper, and Day 1 of motivation
A week before the race, he sent me a text about finally getting to taper week with some “don’t do anything stupid” warnings. Every day that week, he sent me a motivational message to build up to race day. One was a quote, another was a comic, and there were a few inspirational videos thrown in as well. As each day passed, the excitement was building, but so were my nerves. I was building this up so much, and kept thinking what if I didn’t push through it and I failed. Mike was using his vacation to fly from Chicago to Atlanta just to do this. I was already getting inside my head and the race hadn’t even started. I had to drown out all the noise and just trust the plan that was put in place.
The race was on Sunday, but because I was being more cautious with this race than I had ever been, we left Ohio on Thursday and stayed overnight in Knoxville to split up the trip. Kaela again was a trooper and drove almost the entire way to Knoxville, and then the next morning she drove the whole way to Atlanta. On the way to our friends, Terry and Kelly, house, we picked up Mike from his uncles house in Roswell. Once I saw him, all the nerves subsided as I could see in his eyes the amount of faith he had in me to get it done. We headed to the house to drop off Kaela, before Mike and I headed back to downtown Atlanta for lunch and to stop by the race expo. As a start to our carb loading, we went to Gladys Knight’s and of course got the chicken and waffles.
After that delicious meal we made our way to the convention center for the expo. Mike was telling me that he prefers going to expos two days before the race as it helps prevent being on your feet to much the day before a race and also allows you to try all the free samples without having to worry about messing up your pre race nutrition plan. And you bet that we grabbed a bunch of those free samples! We also made sure to visit the pace team table as Mike was wanting to get a little bit of an insight from the pacers about how to handle the course since he was going to be pacing me.
Once we walked around the expo (it was actually quite small) we made our way to Publix to get our pre-race food before heading back to the house. My nutrition goal was to have 10g of carbs per kg of body weight, putting me at just over 820g of carbs needed on Saturday. Not only did I need to hit that carb goal, I needed to keep fat’s and proteins as minimal as possible, as well as, keeping fiber down to prevent any stomach issues. That evening we sat down with a course map and talked over how we were going to handle race day nutrition. I had never planned like this for a race and it was completely eye opening. We were making decisions on when to take gels in order to maintain around 60g of carbs an hour intake, in combination with the fluid on the course. I usually handled races with alternating between water and sports drink (Gatorade or Powerade) at each aid station. Mike believed that this was part of my stomach problem taking in too much water. He said that I will be having Gatorade at every aid station unless I had a gel right before then I would have some water. Again, it didn’t make much sense to me as hadn’t trained that way but I really did put all my trust in his hands since he knew what he was talking about. Later in the evening, we sat down with the whole crew for dinner, catching up and making small talk before calling it a night.
BUZZZZZ! 6:30 alarm going off to let me know it was time for last run before the race. Mike said I could have a few sips of water but no other food before this run. The purpose was to empty the tank before the crazy carb load. It was a nice and easy run just over 3 miles. As we were finishing up, Mike said he had a surprise for me that I was going to enjoy, I should have known better than to believe that. We walked from the driveway down a steep hill to the end of the cul-de-sac. Here he said we were going to sprint up the hill as fast as we could for 30 seconds before walking down and doing it again 4 total times. During the first, I realized just how much faster he was than me as he quickly pulled away right at the start. His watched beeped that we hit 30 seconds and we turned around to do it again. Each time we started, I tried to push harder but I was burning out quickly. After the final sprint, I was a little light headed and had trouble walking in a straight line. I just wanted to lay down and die. Mike grabbed me some coconut water to get some sugar in my body but I refused. He also lifted me up and helped me to keep moving. This attempt to move ended in me throwing up next to the driveway. I was then able to get some fluids down and after a little bit my head seemed to be back in a normal state. How was I going to keep up with Mike when I couldn’t get through a 3.5 mile work out with him? The worries started to set in but I didn’t have time to think too much as it was time to start with the carb loading.
Now you may be asking yourself, what does 820g of carbs in a single day look like? Thanks for asking. This is in total what I ate on Saturday:
4 Thomas Bagels each with 2 Tbsp of Welch’s Grape Jelly
1000ml of Coconut water
64oz Cranberry Juice
3/4 of a box of Honey Nut Cheerios (dry)
4oz of Spaghetti with 1 cup of meat sauce
And that’s everything. Now it wasn’t a lot of different items and trust me it also was not enjoyable to eat all day. We basically just sat on the couch and ate out of necessity. We watched a few movies, some college basketball games, and threw in a few inspirational running videos by the Ginger Runner and Billy Yang. That evening Mike helped with a full body stretch (well that sounds weird) before trying to get a good nights sleep. I laid out all my clothes and gear before laying down to sleep.
At 4 am my alarm goes off. There was no being sluggish as once I heard it, I knew that today was my day and I needed to get to it. For breakfast I had to top off my carb intake, taking in another 220g with bagels, jelly, and a banana. While Mike was eating, he was diligently going over our final plan for the race, making sure he knew every turn and then writing on wrist our gel schedule. However, I was in a different mode. I listened to some inspirational songs while I read a passage from the Bible. This morning was about David and Goliath. Against all odds, and surrounded by doubt, David knew that all things were possible. This was my prayer this morning, to give me the strength and courage that David had on the battlefield.
By 5am we were out the door for the hour drive to downtown Atlanta. The weather for the race was going to be perfect; low 40’s at the start before reaching a high in the low 60’s. We had gotten some throwaway sweatshirts to wear before the race to keep us from getting cold and tight while waiting to start. Before I got out of the car, Mike had his last piece of daily motivation for me. It was a video that has now become what I watch before each race. It brought so many emotions to the surface and put me in the mindset of let’s do this! (https://youtu.be/SuPLxQD4akQ)
We made our way from the parking garage to the starting area. Kaela, Kelly, and Kellys son Lleyton, all came along to support Mike and I on the course. They brought bikes so they could see us at more locations since the course was pretty wide and not many places to walk and see. I gave Kaela a kiss and we made our way to the starting line to enter our corral. As we approached, I had the urge to use restroom yet again, and decided that I was not taking any chances on the course with having to stop and start again. After all that was done, we worked our way into the corral. I took my pre-race gel just a few minutes before the starting gun and then tried to settle myself. I closed my eyes and was able to drown out all the noise around me for just a moment to thank God for allowing me to do this and also for all the people that He has put in my life to help with this journey. The start of the race was in waves, with my group being in the 2nd wave. Once the first wave was started, Mike and I shed our pre-race sweaters to reveal to everyone our matching neon tanks. A quick hug and we made our way to the starting line.
“Runners are you ready?…GOOOOOOOO!”
The game plan for the race was to work the downhills hard to make up some time for the long hills that would come later on the course We started the race at a comfortable pace just a little slower than goal. From the energy that I had built up preparing for start, I’m glad Mike was there to hold me back early rather than taken off. Around mile 1 our crew was on the side of road cheering us on. The first 5k felt great as my body started to loosen up. Mike was having us tackle the short climbs a little hard so we backed off a bit. The 5k mark was also the second time that we saw our crew but since it was still very early in race, the road congestion didn’t allow for us to see each other until the last second. Miles 4 and 5 went smooth as we made our way through Little Five Points. The area was familiar to me as my dad and I visited some restaurants and breweries in the area late last year.
At mile 6, we took a left on Freedom parkway which was the start of a downhill just under a mile in length. We used gravity to our advantage and just coasted by people as we flew down the hill. But a common phrase when running, what goes down must come up (or something like that, you get the point). We turned passed an aid station just before mile 7 and went straight back up the hill we just went down, just in a shorter distance. Mike helped me keep my breathing under control as we kept a smooth pace to the top of the hill. We were approaching the next spot that we were supposed to see our crew on the course, but they were no where to be found. As we made the turn to mile 8, I started to worry about Kaela. I printed out a map and also built one in Google for her to follow along, so I was certain that she wasn’t lost, which made me start to be concerned if something went wrong. I tried my best to keep it in the back of my head but we were not scheduled to see them again for another 10 miles. Mike gave me reassurance that they probably lost track of time because how fast we were going and we will see them at the next spot.
The miles were just ticking off so easily as we wrapped in and out of a few neighborhoods. At mile 10 we took a turn to a steep hill that would take us to the highest point on the course. Mike lead the charge as I drafted off of him, pushing our way to the top. From mile 11 to 16, it was a net down hill and we worked to bank some time with it. I do remember this being a lonely part of the course as we went through a few warehouse district type areas with not much crowd support on the street. One thing that helped keep my mind off of the task at hand were the funny signs that were on the side of road as we approached Decatur. I can’t remember a single one of them now, but they were all rhymes talking about running, inspiration, and the best were about coming back to Decatur after race and spending all your money!
At the half marathon mark, I took a look at the race clock (I did not looked at my watch the entire race as I was trusting Mike) and noticed that I actually was right around my PR for a half marathon. Mike was quick to remind me that this was not the half way point in the race, this was just half the distance. We assessed my situation and figured that we were about 4 minutes ahead of the goal. Mike asked me how everything was feeling; how were my legs, arms, stomach, head holding up so far. Everything felt great. I was a little winded (as one should be at 13 miles in) but everything still felt loose and comfortable. Starting at mile 14, he said he would ask me on a scale from 1-10, with 1 being “I can barely walk” and 10 being “never been better”, how was I feeling overall. Mile 14 – 8
Cruising through Decatur, we headed towards Emory college. Now when my dad and I were in Atlanta last year, we stayed at Emory and I remember some of the long climbs around campus. Lucky for us, we were heading in the opposite direction so we got to enjoy the downhills. The wind started to pick up as we approached the campus so Mike stayed in front trying to block as much of the wind as possible. Mile 16 – 7. The long descents started to beat up on my quads a little bit and I could feel a little bit of tension. Not to worry though because this is where the downhills stopped and the climbs started. From 16.5 -17.5 we climbed with no break. I stayed focused on Mike’s footsteps and my breathing to power through that tough stretch of road. As we approached the top of the hill, I could hear voices screaming our names. It was our crew! They made it to the spot safely and all my worries that I held for last 10 miles were able to roll off my shoulders. I tried to acknowledge their cheers but instead I was brought to tears. Kaela screamed that she loved me and I couldn’t even muster the words back as my emotions flooded over me. Luckily Mike knew exactly how I was feeling and yelled back “he loves you too!”
Mile 18- 8. Seeing our crew, lifted my spirits and gave me an extra pep in my step. We attacked some down hill running for the next 1.5 miles before coming up on some rolling hills. We hit the “half way point” at mile 20 and I felt amazing. My spirits were high and my stride was smooth as we worked up and down the suburbs of Atlanta. Mike started hyping me up that just a 10k left and we are absolutely killing it. Then we hit Piedmont park. Mile 22- 6. We started up a short out and back section that went straight up. It took all I had to power up the hill before hitting the turn around and catching my breath on the way down. This was the first point that I really started to feel some discomfort in my legs as they were getting heavy. As we exited the park we headed up what seemed to me at the time to be literally straight up hill. When I got a glance of it, my legs started to actually give way as though I was going to start walking. Mike instantly grabbed me and gave me a little push saying that “you haven’t walked this entire race, and you are not going to start now!” This is where Coach Mike became drill sergeant Mike.
Mile 24 – 4. I was falling fast, as my legs just felt so heavy and the turnover in my stride was no longer smooth. Mike kept talking to me, giving me support and letting me know that I did not make it this far to quit. At one point he started running backwards so he could look me in the face while he told me to pick it up. A volunteer on the side of the road didn’t think it was very nice, but it was exactly what I needed to get in gear. Around this point the 4 hour pacer caught back up to us. Mike let me know that we were still on target as they crossed start before we did, but I needed to pick it up. He glanced at his watch and realized that the cushion we once had was quickly fading away. We made it through the aid station at Georgia Tech, making the second to last turn on the course. I needed to put it in gear.
I felt like I was pushing hard but it was like I was barely moving. We hit the mile marker where Mike asked me how I was feeling from 1-10. I looked up at him and gave him the dirtiest scowl before resuming my glance about 10 feet in front of me. He definitely got his answer, and instead of just keeping quiet knowing how bad I was hurting, he responds with something smart like “good, now lets push it.” I put one foot in front of the other the best I could as I tried to ignore all the pain. Then we hit the mile 26 marker with the final turn approaching.
I could hear the cheers of the spectators at the finish and knew that I was almost there. I turned it up and gave everything that I had left. We took the final left turn and I put the pedal to the floor. I was so focused on the finish line that I completely missed our crew going nuts for us. Mike pushed me hard to the finish as we came in at 3:59:30. We did it! Mike and I let out a huge scream in excitement as we crossed the finish mat. Mike went to give me a hug and just lost control in my legs and instantly got lightheaded from that final sprint to the finish. I literally gave everything that I had before crossing the finish. He grabbed me and helped me walk through the finishers area. I grabbed some water and got my medal as I finally heard the cheers from Kaela and our crew on the other side of the fence.
Kaela rushed around the fence and with tears of happiness in her eyes, gave me a hug. The rest of the crew was close behind congratulating us. I grabbed some Powerade and chocolate milk to try and get some calories in my body to help with the weakness. I don’t remember much of what was said back and forth as we walked through the finish area, but I do remember thanking Mike over and over again for pushing me and making me dig deep to cross that finish. As Mike headed to pickup his drop bag, I headed into a medical tent. The team of people they had at the tent were amazing, instantly helping me lay down and elevating my feet to get some blood flow back to my head. Once I felt a little better, a sports medicine guy came over and stretched out my quads that kept locking up. Finally feeling back to at least 50%, I joined back up with everyone waiting outside the medical tent.
Mike and I told stories about the race on the drive home, recapping what we went through in that 4 hours. Kaela filled us in on the situation of missing us at mile 7. Apparently the bike path had more hills than the road did and they weren’t able to make it fast enough to meet us at that point. They decided to get to the spot mile 17 and just wait for us to arrive. After they watched us run by, they realized that there was no way that they were going to make it to the finish before we did by biking back to the start, so they had to think of options quickly. Luckily it came to them and they grabbed an Uber SUV to drive them, and their bikes, back to the starting line. It made for a good laugh that they were so tired that they didn’t want to ride back while Mike and I were hauling it! Once we got back to the house, Mike packed up all his stuff and we headed out to a local brewery before dropping him off at the airport. Again, I thanked him so much for helping me with this goal.
I want to take the end of this recap to thank everyone that played a part in helping me reach this goal. First off, as always, I want to thank Kaela for being my support through everything that this journey has in store. I also want to thank our friends Terry and Kelly for allowing us to stay at their house and also for waking up very early on a Sunday morning to watch me run around Atlanta. I have to thank my good running buddies John and Chad, for giving me inspiration and encouragement leading up to the race. Most of all, however, I have to thank Mike. He used a week of his limited vacation to fly to Atlanta just to pace me. There are moments that I know he wanted to race a little harder, but he stayed with me the entire way to make sure that I hit my goal. There are no words that can describe the amount of gratitude that I have for him doing this. I honestly don’t think that without his support, coaching, and little kicks in the ass, I would have crossed that finish line under 4 hours. Mike, thank you so much and I can’t wait until next time!
Thanks for making it through this longer recap. There is so much emotion wrapped in this for me, that I could probably write another few paragraphs. I hit a goal that I had set when I started running 6 years ago and it feels amazing. Hope you enjoyed hearing a little bit about my time in Atlanta, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on any of my races on my journey of 50 States of Marathons!
In less than a month, we are heading to Monterey, California, to run the coast in the Big Sur International Marathon.
**A little extra**
I don’t like taking these photos from MarathonFoto, but I had to share what the finishing view looked like from the other side. Lets just say, I had lots of different feelings going on at the same time ha.