* If you would like a FREE I (heart) Women's Half Marathon sticker, like the one in this linked post, please email me at yomommaruns(at)gmail.com with your mailing address, and I'd be happy to send one to you!
Travel to the race: We left around 1:30 on Friday to head to Nashville from Birmingham. That means I had three road hours to hydrate.
Some people didn't like that I had my race playlist blasting on repeat.
The expo: we arrived at around 4:30 on Friday, so parking downtown was still a bit hectic. Luckily, we found a spot about two blocks away and quickly walked to the expo. It was all really easy to navigate, and we walked straight up to the table to grab my bib and packet. No lines! Then on to the booths. My daughter was getting high on her bored-with-all-things-running scale, so we didn't spend much time in the expo. Swiftwick, Run U Mother, SPIbelt, Newton, and several (meaning more than I could keep count of) headband companies were there. There was a loooong line at the Dr. Scholl's booth. Maybe because they were giving out free headbands for trying out their inserts. Or maybe they had Magic Mike playing behind the booth.
The only thing I saw that stood out as not running related was a booth of fancy jeans for sale. I guess runners wear tight, fancy jeans every now and then. You have to wear something to hide your five layers of compression gear.
Parking on race morning: I was hoping to find some free street parking, so after my early wake up of 4 a.m. (I was driving about an hour from Franklin, KY, to the race), I headed out at 5. With virtually zero traffic, I made it to downtown about 5:45. My first idea was to park at a meter. Nope, they still charge you on Saturdays and limit your time, so that was a no-go. Then I tried some paid parking. I checked out the cost, and it was $4. Perfect, but by the time I went back to my car to get my card, some random dude was putting a trash bag over the machine and now charging $10. Lame. But it was better than getting booted. So if you get to the race pre-5:45 and pay right away, your parking might be cheaper. The good news is I was only a couple blocks from the start, and it was easy to find again after the race. Plus other race ladies were parking there too, and I walked down to the race with another lady. Safety in numbers!
Pre-race vibe: Once we got there, the port-o-potties had no line at all. That changed later because I tried to go again right before the race, and the lines were pretty long but seemed to be moving quickly. The start of the race was clearly marked, and I headed over to take some self portraits by the start banner. Another lady quickly volunteered to take some for me. That seemed to be the theme of the race: niceness.
There were also lots of official (and officially friendly) photographers hanging out, getting every group or interesting thing they could find on film.
Also in my solo milling around, I got to see tons of folks.
First there was Rachael who won the race entry on my blog a few months back. She was there with her family, including her baby who just happens to be the cutest baby on the planet. They all came up from Alabama to cheer her on for her first half marathon. I saw her afterwards, and she's already planning her second one. Race addicts unite.
Then I bumped into Jordan from Short Legs + Long Runs, who is pretty much the nicest person on the planet. She just happened to be meeting Kelsey from Go Girl. So right then and there was an impromptu blogger meet-up, smack dab in front of the port-o-potties! Jordan, who is from Nashville, told me a little bit about the course and reassured me that the hills weren't that bad. After the race, I assumed she was joking! Ouch, my butt hurts just thinking about those hills.
Then I ran into Donna who is from my hometown and is a fellow Birmingham Track Club member. That was an awesome surprise! I originally met Donna at my first trail half marathon (aka my first trail race ever), and I remember her well because I spent the last many miles of that race following her and her friend on the trail. I felt like they had a rope tied to me and were pulling me along with their strength during that race.
There were almost 4,000 people there, including the 5Kers.
And this Segway was trying to squeeze into a tiny sliver of space. That awkward moment when you realize that walking would have been easier.
I was in the first corral, somewhere in the middle, and they had to make an announcement to tell everyone to scoot up to the start line. That's how non-competitive and lovey this race is. No one wanted to elbow their way to the start line.
The race: And the start was slooooow. Considering it was the first corral, we started with a very slow jog for a minute before we could break free of the crowd. I think everyone just had the idea to not go out too fast and not elbow anyone. After the first mile I got into my groove and was able to concentrate on hill after hill after hill after hill. On a regular run day, these might not have been too crazy, but it felt slightly like torture to try and hold a 7:49 pace on those hills. Luckily we were running through Nashville, which is one of my favorite cities to run in because it holds so many awesome memories. I was so happy that we ran past the International Market on Belmont Blvd. because I've been there a ton with my sister, and it just makes me smile (and want to sit down and scarf some grub) to see it.
There were also some singers out on the course to help push us along, but honestly, I was mentally plugged in to my playlist to stay motivated. It also looked like a lot of kids and dads had come out to support their moms. That helped remind me to run faster because my rockstar husband was at home with all the boys so that I could come up and bust my rump at this race. So I had to get to busting.
Somewhere around mile 7, we turned around and backtracked for a mile or so, and I got to fist pump to Donna and high five Jordan. Plus my favorite aid stop was here. At the GU station, a bunch of dudes dressed up in flannel shirts and cutoffs and were sporting beards and mustaches. So whoever you are, lumberjacks, you made that aid station hilarious.
Those were some good distractions to push me along until mile 9. I kept telling myself that if I could just get to mile 9, it would be downhill after that. I remember reading somewhere on the site that after mile 9 it was downhill. What my brain didn't retain was the word "net." It was truly net downhill according to my Garmin.
But the uphills, hidden among that net downhill, were burning my legs up.
Because of all the little and big hills, my speeds looked crazy. Fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, slow.
But the splits weren't too terrible. My goal was 7:49, and I think I even managed one of those in there, and I'm really surprised with the sub-8 on mile 1 because we started out so slowly. Mile 8 was a long, steady uphill, so I definitely slowed down there. Unfortunately, the all-out I had planned for the last four miles, turned into an all-survive. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
In case you didn't see the final stats in my other post, my time was 1:42:03, 11th in my age group, 30th woman, and 31st overall (yup, not a lot of dudes in this one, but they are allowed to race that day).
Chrissie Wellington was a huge mental inspiration for this race. Her book, A Life Without Limits, is a great read before any race that you're trying to PR. She's tough as nails and does not quit pushing herself to the edge.
I definitely felt spent at the finish, and my calves were cramping after I stopped. My heart rate averaged 164 for the race, so the ticker was working hard. My legs, even with a healthy dose of compression shorts and socks plus stretching, were sore until Tuesday, but I was happy for the soreness to verify that I really pushed my limits that day.
Post-race party: After the finish, there were plenty of snacks, drinks, and things to do.
The cookies were flowing.
The band was playing.
You could have someone remove the charm from your medal. The charm was actually really cool (see medal below), and even though I'm not a jewelry wearer, I would consider wearing this. Maybe it can even take the place of wearing medals to social events.
I didn't check anything, but this was definitely the most organized gear check area I have ever seen.
The massage tent immediately caught my weary eye, but it was $10 for 15 minutes. I brought no money, so I was super bummed that it wasn't a free massage. My calves were also mad at me for not bringing any money.
While I was milling around, I spotted these cool ladies who were running for Ethan's Army. On the back of their shirts, they had attached pics of kids who are fighting cancer.
In the above pic, they are giving thumbs up for Lane Goodwin, who is fighting for his life right now. Take a picture of your own thumbs up and post it to Lane's Facebook wall to let him know he has support all over the country.
Swag: I love the bags they hand out for this race because they are tougher than other reusable bags I have, and they are perfect for swim excursions in the summer because of their waterproof lining.
Here are the free samples we got in the swag bag this year.
Minus the pretzels stolen by this kid. Don't mind if I do.
These were for sale in the store at the expo, and I actually liked their design better than the race shirt. Can I go ahead and cast my vote for 2013?
And the medals were huge (which I consider that an awesome thing)! The removable charm is the little lady running in front of the state of Tennessee. Love. Also, the ribbon was nice and thick with the date printed on it. Sometimes I like fancy ribbons just as much as fancy medals.
Overall impressions: This race is perfect if you want a chilled out, upbeat race in Nashville. It's much less crowded than the Nashville RNR half, but you still get to enjoy the best sites in Nashville. And the after-party is more accessible and built for just kicking up and relaxing right at the finish line. Plus the lack of crazy traffic on race morning is a huge positive, and I love the 7 a.m. start time. The route has an average amount of crowd support, meaning you'll see people all along the path but they are spaced out. The streets we ran were completely blocked off, and the police did a great job of holding traffic back. There is a lot more space to spread out during this race and do your own thing pace-wise versus the constant crowd fighting during the RNR half. And all the ladies I met were so positive and supportive of each other!
Women's Half Marathon comped my race entry, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. Although I was swayed by the really big, shiny medal.