Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hotlanta Half Marathon 8/24/14 (Race Report)

On August 24, 2014, I finished the Hotlanta Half Marathon in 2:28:40.

Photo courtesy of TrueSpeedPhoto
The Hotlanta Half Marathon, an inaugural event directed by one of my local running friends, Rachel Langelotti, and sponsored by Orion Racing, features the most lively local half marathon course that I have seen to date.  With a route that begins at Underground Atlanta and takes runners past the Georgia Capitol Gold Dome, underneath the Olympic Rings to Turner Field, along the Atlanta Eastside Beltline Trail, through Piedmont Park, through the Georgia Tech campus, through Centennial Olympic Park, and back to the start in the late summer heat, this race certainly lives up to its name. 

The August temperatures had taken a bite out of my running since the Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run at the beginning of the month, when I had completed 29.5 miles during the allotted time.  Two weeks later, a 21-mile training run in the middle of the month had been particularly brutal.  The dog days of late summer make for tough running even for smaller runners, and, although I have continued to drop pounds in recent weeks, I am still a long way from peak fitness.  Fortunately, I placed no pressure on myself for this half marathon, and I decided early on that I would be running this race simply to enjoy the company of friends and to earn some cool bling in the form of the inaugural race medal.  

The Hotlanta Half Marathon greeted me with a family atmosphere as soon as I arrived at the start with Rebecca, a fellow runner who had carpooled with me, and I quickly spotted several familiar faces.  I enjoyed catching up with a handful of friends, many of whom were volunteering for the event, before I made my way to the back of the crowd to begin my run at a carefree pace.  I had planned to use my timer to complete this race with the same three-minute-run/one-minute-walk interval routine that I use during my normal group training runs on weekends, but I would have to improvise a strategy instead, since I had accidentally left my timer at home. 

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Watters
During the first three miles of the course, as we ran past the state capital and around Turner Field, I enjoyed the company of Paul, a fellow GUTS runner with whom I had finished a handful of recent events, since we were both moving along at a leisurely clip.  In typical August fashion, the weather was deceptively cool during this early stretch, but I knew that the heat would soon take over with force.  I was impressed to see volunteers handing out water even during the first couple of miles.  Running without a water bottle at an inaugural race is always a gamble, because organizers often underestimate the resources, so I was happy to note that we would all be in good hands because of the plentiful aid station supplies at this particular event. 

As I left the Turner Field area and ran underneath the Olympic Rings on Capitol Avenue, I ended up in a conversation with a fellow runner from the Marathon Maniacs group, and I enjoyed talking with him for the next several miles as we ran similar paces.  After a brief turn through the Georgia State University area near the Capitol, we reached my favorite section of the entire race.  The Atlanta Eastside Beltline Trail, a concrete path that gradually descends for a couple of miles down to Piedmont Park, is one of my favorite routes to follow on weekend training runs because of the artwork that lines the stretch in the form of elaborate graffiti illustrations and interesting sculptures. 

The rising temperatures started to take hold as I reached Piedmont Park and passed the halfway point of the route, but I still had a smile on my face as I ran with the occasional improvised walk breaks, which I usually took on notable inclines.  The eighth mile of the race was a lot of fun, since I always enjoy running and people-watching at Piedmont Park on the weekends.   

The heat began to take a toll as I reached the ninth mile, but a cup of watermelon that some aid station volunteers handed to me provided a good physical and mental boost.  Mile 10 of the race was a good excuse for me to relive old college memories as the route twisted through Georgia Tech campus and exited by Bobby Dodd Stadium.  The next couple of miles on Centennial Olympic Park Drive were mostly flat and forgiving, but I nonetheless increased the frequency of my walk breaks because of fatigue. 

The last mile of the race was a slow one for me, but I still enjoyed the scenery of the route on the bridge road that passed by the CNN Center and before making a sharp twist for the final section back to Underground Atlanta.  I picked up my running pace with hopes of reaching the finish line before two and a half hours had passed, since that had been my modest goal all along.

I crossed the finish line of the Hotlanta Half Marathon with a time of 2:28:40, placing 785 out of 1177 finishers with a pace of 11:21 per mile.  I was pleased with the outcome, because my pace echoed that of my normal weekend training runs over the summer, and because I would be pacing myself even more conservatively for an ultramarathon the following weekend.  I am confident that faster times are inevitable as I continue to get back into shape.  After I crossed the finish line and ate a banana, I joined the volunteers to hand water bottles to the remaining finishers and to congratulate friends for a short while before returning home. 

The half marathon is always a fun distance, and this new Hotlanta Half Marathon is my new favorite race of this distance.  I loved the scenic route, I loved the excellent organization, and I loved seeing so many friendly runners and volunteers along the way.  Thanks to Rachel Langelotti and the Orion Racing crowd for a perfect inaugural event that I hope to see again and again in the years to come. 

See you on the trails.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run 8/3/14 (Race Report)

On August 3, 2014, I completed my fifth Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run with a distance of 29.5 miles.

Photo courtesy of Deborah Williams
The Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run, a fixed-time event sponsored by Georgia Ultrarunning and Trailrunning Society (GUTS), takes place every August at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, Georgia.  The 1.1813-mile race route loop starts at a picnic shelter that serves as the aid station, descends along a hilly single-track trail, a paved section, and a gravel forest road down to a sandy path alongside Sweetwater Creek before crossing a wooden bridge and climbing hilly trails covered with tree roots to the final forest road hill that leads back up to the timing chute at the shelter.   The GUTS website description from Race Director Ryan Cobb outlines the risks of this event.  “At the Hot To Trot 8 Hour Race, our goal is to provide the race as advertised.  As the name implies, you can count on it being HOT.  Temps are easily in the 90s this time of year in Georgia, with humidity off the scale.  Hyponatremia and dehydration can be serious.  Runners are expected to use proper electrolytes in order to stay alive!”

As a show of support for the Race Director’s wife, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer just days before the race, runners were encouraged to wear pink clothing or apparel to this event.  Since my only pink gear was a pair of running shorts with pink lining that had been through too many dirty trail falls and too many machine washes, I bought a pair of pink shoelaces from the Target across the street from my apartment and used the laces to make bracelets, one for myself and five for any other runners who did not have any pink clothing.  I ended up handing all five of the extra bracelets to runners in the parking lot before I even made it from my truck to the packet pickup location. 

This year’s race took place on the last day of a pleasant cool spell, so temperatures only climbed to 86 degrees, but I knew that I would be in for a challenge when I checked the weather from my iPhone before the race and noted that the humidity was at 91%.  Since humidity is always a factor due to the race route that climbs down into the Sweetwater Creek valley, I decided beforehand to follow my usual strategy for this race by running for most of the first two hours to put some miles in the bank before settling into a power-walk later in the day when the rising heat became a factor.  My mileage ambitions for the event were modest this time around, since I am still enjoying a steady comeback to the world of ultrarunning.  I had recovered quickly from my 50K at the Merrill’s Mile 12-Hour Run in early July, and had enjoyed three weekend long runs since then, but I knew that the hills and humidity of the Hot To Trot race would be another great test of my endurance abilities. 

The first hour of this race was pleasant and uneventful, thanks to some cool morning temperatures.  I started near the back of the pack and ran the entire loop for the first few laps, save for the two notable hill climbs that I walked from the beginning.  I finished four laps in one hour before taking my first nutrition, a banana, from the aid station table.  I had brought a container full of Fuel100 Electro-Bites, but I soon discovered that I would not need them.   The GUTS aid station table served a variety of amazing-looking homemade baked goods and standard running fuel, but I decided to eat fruit for as long as possible, since I had found that strategy much to my liking at the Merrill’s Mile event.

My running mojo dissipated surprisingly early, and I started power-walking most of the loop after only an hour and half into this race.  I knew that the humidity was taking a toll on me, but I was not discouraged by the situation.  My primary goal at this race was simply to stay on my feet for the entire eight hours without sitting down.  I was hoping to complete a 50K distance, but that distance goal was secondary to my promise to keep moving with relentless forward motion.  When I was still recovering from aggravated fascia tissue in my left heel last year, I had bowed out of the race after only four hours.  Now that I was injury-free, I was determined to get my money’s worth out of all eight hours.

The main appeal of the Hot To Trot race for me is that it is a great social event.  I always enjoy the opportunity to spend time with every runner on the loop at some point or another during the eight hours, because the setup allows me to see faster or slower runners with whom I am not always able to interact during point-to-point races.  I tried my best to have a smile and kind words for everyone, since a little encouragement always goes a long way as the hours count down closer to the peak of the midday heat. 

Most of the trail loop is mercifully covered in shade, but an open area when the route turns at Sweetwater Creek is always a good place to gauge the intensity of rising temperatures.  After only a couple of hours, I knew that this day was going to be hotter than I had expected.  Hot To Trot always seems to sneak up on me like this every year.  Fortunately, the aid station workers had started to stock the table at the picnic shelter with watermelon, and I took advantage by taking two or three slices on each lap to serve as my only nutrition and my only hydration, just as I had done at the Merrill’s Mile race. 

The most daunting part of Hot To Trot for me is always the fourth hour, because I’m starting to tire out and the gravel of the forest road section starts to rough up my feet.  Putting one foot in front of the other is the key, though, and the halfway point of the race arrived faster than I had expected. 

Photo courtesy of Lisa Montreuil
I did not suffer though any mental low points during this year’s race, and, thanks to my limiting the nutrition and hydration to watermelon from the aid station table, my hands and arms did not swell this time as they always had in previous years.  My electrolyte balance felt normal during the entire event, although more sodium might have helped me earn more miles toward the end.  My only real display of exhausted irritability came about five or six hours into the event, when one running friend teased me about putting my entire hand in the watermelon bowl, and I jokingly gave her the middle finger.  I apologized to her a few moments later as she ran past me while I was talking with someone else. 

When I saw the Race Director’s wife near the picnic shelter toward the end of one of my laps, I told her that she was in my prayers, and that I was pulling for her recovery.  The abundance of pink apparel worn by the race crowd was a touching testament to the ability of the running community to support its own, and this aspect of the race made it one of my favorite events in recent memory. 

I started running for longer stretches about six hours into the race, simply because I knew that I needed to put more distance behind me if I wanted the 27 laps required to achieve the 50K distance.  I knew that 27 laps were a tall order, since I had only lost a few pounds since my 50K the previous month, and that I had earned that distance on a flat and easy course.  Still, I soldiered on, and kept moving forward.

I was inspired by the sight of top runners who sped by with a seemingly effortless motion even during these late hours of the race while giving words of encouragement to everyone whom they passed.  I paid it forward by returning the good wishes and by offering kind words to others. 

The heat finally caught up with me seven hours into the race, and I had to slow down to keep my body temperature down after a brief period of light-headedness.  At this point, I realized that I would fall short of the 50K distance, but I was still going to give the course a good fight.  The field of runners had dropped in numbers, because I was being passed or passing fewer people on the trail.  My distance would be unspectacular in the final rankings, but I was proud to be a part of the race for the duration.

I crossed through the timing chute for the last time with only 13 minutes left on the clock, because I knew that I did not have quite enough time to lumber through another lap.  I had finished 25 laps to earn 29.5 miles at my fifth year at this race.  Any disappointment that I felt about failing to earn a 50K distance by only a mile and half quickly went away while I enjoyed congratulating friends at the picnic shelter. 

The Hot To Trot 8 Hour Run is an event that I eagerly anticipate every year, despite my preference for fixed-distance races over fixed-time races.  The social aspect of this GUTS event always wins me over, and I have grown to love the family reunion atmosphere.  Thanks to Ryan Cobb and the GUTS volunteers for another perfectly executed and safe run in the crazy August heat. 

See you on the trails.