Marathon 11: Chattanooga Marathon; Sunday, March 5, 2017, 8am
I’m happy to report the hills didn’t destroy me in Chattanooga on Sunday. As I only have flat terrain to train on, there was the very real possibility I would not be able to walk after the marathon due to the hilly course. And that I might require a wheelchair at the airport when I left town on Monday. All doomsday predictions were for naught, and while I was sore after the race, I’m super happy that pretty much everything worked normally just a couple days later. This is definitely a testament to being properly trained for a race; the long miles for months in advance did the work for which I had hoped.
But back to the beginning.
Chattanooga was marathon number 11 for me, which is crazy to think I’m in the double digits after just having started marathon running in October 2015. But here I am. This race was run in memory of LCpl Brian Felber and Sgt Jesse Martin, both who served their country honourably in the US Marine Corps. I left Cayman on the Friday before the race, with a belly full of butterflies that I haven’t experienced before a race since probably my second marathon (the first marathon was way worse for my nerves). I was very nervous – mostly about the hills, but also feeling a very strong sense of needing to do well for the two Marines I carried with me (and their families). On top of it, I was very excited to see a friend (Robbie) from Cayman who had recently moved to the Chattanooga area. She was picking me up at the airport, and we would be spending Saturday together.
The Chattanooga airport is a small, regional airport, which makes it easy to find your way once you arrive. I walked past a display of sponges in the terminal (apparently, they are manufactured in Chattanooga. Also, there is the International Towing Museum that we drove by on our Saturday excursion. Apparently the tow truck was invented in Chattanooga in 1916. Who knew?) as I headed toward baggage claim and seeing Robbie for the first time since she left Cayman more than six months ago.
I stayed at the host hotel, the Marriott in downtown Chattanooga. It was nice – I had a large corner room – and it was a short walk to packet pick up/finish line. It was a slightly longer walk (15-20 min) to the start, which was near the Tennessee Aquarium. I also was advised to go to Community Pie for good pizza and a nice selection of beer, and that was about 10 min away as well. (Fun story there, on Saturday for my pre-race dinner, I went there and sat next to a few fraternity brothers who tried to give me a pizza recommendation. I quickly realized I was old enough to be their mother. They swore they would bring me beer at the finish line. Spoiler alert: they did not. I’m actually not shocked at all.)
Packet Pick up – Saturday morning
Packet pick up was about a 10 min walk from the host hotel (Marriott), in the First Tennessee Pavilion. This was the finish area for the race, as well. Little did I realize, this was also an open air pavilion. While it may have been 70-degrees just days before I arrive to Chatttanooga, it was definitely not that warm when I walked to packet pick up. So instead of being able to get warm at the race expo, I walked through rather quickly to receive my bib and shirt, check out the course map and head back to the hotel for my ‘date’ with Robbie. There were about 20 booths or so to visit; I was just too chilly to want to stick around. Blame my very thin blood on that; I do.
I was thankful that by mid-day things had warmed up significantly. This was also a nice preview as to what race day would likely be, and I knew that if I dressed too warmly for the start, it would not be a good thing in the second half of the marathon.
Robbie met me shortly after I returned to the hotel, and she shared the area with me, driving along various parts of the marathon course (although not the whole thing as I ‘like’ to be surprised on race day) and pointing out landmarks of the area. We headed up Lookout Mountain, enjoyed a delicious lunch at Café on the Corner, walked on the north bank of the river, crossed the wooden footbridge (Walnut Street Bridge) and simply had a great day of catching up. She clearly loves the area, and after spending the weekend there, I can see why. It is an artsy community with many activities to offer (including Ironman races! Why would anyone purposefully choose that hilly area to race an Ironman? Because you want to make your 140.6 that much harder, apparently!), and I loved seeing it through the eyes of someone who has recently fallen in love with their new home. It is always nice to have a friendly face in the crowd when you travel. I am so thankful she gave up her Saturday to spend with me.
The marathon started at 8am near the Tennessee Aquarium. After a very restless night of not sleeping, I got up and began my race morning rituals. The cold was real – it was around 37 degrees when I walked out of the hotel. Thankfully, I made the rounds at Goodwill in November, and one of my finds was a snuggie that I happily wrapped myself inside until race time.
At the start area, they have pace signs to help you self-seed. Pacers were available for most of the major time goals, and I swear one of these days I will try to run with one of them. I took a moment to get a pre-race photo at the start line (left), asking a spectator to take my photo. She did, and I thanked her, walking away to gather my stuff and go to my predicted pace location in the chute. She followed me, and asked me about Brian and Jesse, who they were and why I was running for them. I was so happy to be able to share their story with her. It helped me focus in those final pre-race moments on what I was doing, and most importantly, why I was doing it.
Runners settled into the start chute, eagerly anticipating the start. We were treated to a rendition of the national anthem by Sugarland’s guitarist, then it was race time. Off went the snuggie and off we all headed through downtown Chattanooga, with 26.2 miles ahead to enjoy.
In the first mile, it was a bit more crowded than I had anticipated. While there were only about 500 marathoners, there were many more half marathoners as well as the first leg of the relay all running together. We continued through the streets, past the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo station, with the half marathoners splitting off not long after. The cool air was glorious to run in, and my pace was about 9 min/mi, which was faster than I wanted to run, but I simply couldn’t slow myself down – it felt that good! I was able to easily maintain this pace until mile 11, and I knew it would slow down once I hit the hills. The rapidly changing temperature also helped to add a bit of time to my pace as I entered the second half, but really, I’m going to blame the hills.
Robbie was waiting for me around mile 7, when the course took us past the road that led to the town where she lives. I stopped for a couple photos and a hug, then continued on. Back at my 9 min/mi pace, I then had to stop again when I ran by the Lookout Mountain Railroad. It is a tourist attraction that takes you straight up Lookout Mountain. It is very steep. No thanks.
My goal in the race was to be smart. Live to run strong another day, namely for the Paris Marathon. I thought about it and decided in the days leading up to the race that I would walk up the steep hills to ensure I would have the energy to finish strong – and in a reasonable time (4:30-4:45). The first major hill was around mile 11, after we finished the River Walk section (pretty stretch along the river but that concrete substrate, ouch!) and the course took us up the bank of the river. I knew this very steep hill was coming. We then crossed the river on Veteran’s Bridge and were subjected to many more hills on the north bank. It was not for the faint of heart. Luckily, almost every aid station (possibly every station, but I didn’t pay attention at the first few) had REAL food! I tend to do well when I have access to bananas during the race. In addition to bananas, there were typically oranges and candy as well as Gu gels available to runners. When it was all said and done, I probably ate a total of two bananas along the course.
Eventually, we headed back across the Tennessee River, this time running over the wooden foot bridge. It is long. And the incline is a bit more than you realize when you simply walk over it. Being a Sunday morning, many people were out enjoying the beautiful day, walking their dogs or spending time with their children on the bridge. It was fun to run through the ‘normal Sunday’ of so many people. I think this may have been my favourite spot on the course. We headed through UTC campus and continued winding our way through the Chattanooga area, en route back to downtown.
At mile 20, the ‘party’ was in full effect with me and the timing guy. I love getting to this point; it is the moment that I know I can make it to the end! Runners were fairly spaced out at this point, with the occasional relay runner zooming past (on fresh legs). Otherwise, I saw few other runners as I travelled the final few miles. Pockets of spectators helped give a nice boost as we went into the final 10K of the race, and I found myself surprised that I was more than 75% finished another marathon.
As always, the last few miles of the marathon were the most challenging. I was passed by the 4:20 pacer around mile 22 or 23, but we did chat for a bit before he continued on at his set pace. Right about that time he surged forward (up another hill), I saw a spectator-operated beer stop, and I ran over to grab a Terrapin beer (he also had Bud Light). As is typical for my races, I don’t remember much about the last couple miles other than talking myself into putting one foot in front of the other. After what felt like an eternity, the course brought us back into some street names that sounded familiar, including MLK Blvd and then we passed Broad Street, so I knew we were getting close to the end. I started to tear up (because running for four hours does funny things to your brain, and I always find that I am rather emotional at the end of the race), and turned off my music. Right before I hit the 26 mile marker, I videoed a short message for the family of Sgt Jesse Martin, put my phone away, thanked the volunteer at the final turn onto Chestnut Street and I headed to the finish line. The last 0.2 miles felt like they stretched for about 100 miles. True story.
About 100 yards out, I received a high-five from Officer John, who was welcoming all runners to the finisher’s chute. He is getting back into running himself and plans to run the Goofy Challenge in January 2018, and positioned himself at this spot as a way to congratulate the runners and to gain a bit of inspiration for himself. Only steps from the end of the course, I was introduced as being ‘all the way from Grand Cayman’ and my name was called right before I finished. Cameras took finish line photos and I received my medal, as I bent over, feeling a wave of tears and emotions come over me. Emotions are raw when you put yourself – both body and mind – through such a challenge. This was probably the biggest emotional rush I have felt in a race, and it took me a moment to collect myself.
My finish time: 4:23:17. This was good for 192 overall, and 9th in my age group. I’m pretty happy with the results.
I walked through the finisher’s area, grabbing a water, soda, chips and pretzels, then I headed out to stuff my face with all the salty foods I could. And to find my free beer. At this point, I also tried to get some pizza (one of the options we had for post-race food), but the pizza was all gone. My second choice was tacos from the Mexican food truck, but the line was really long, and I wanted a shower. So I headed back to my room and planned to return to get tacos (which were all gone by the time I got back). I ended up eating pizza at Community Pie again – the food was good and the beer was cold!
Several days after the race, I received an email saying we would be sent a link to our FREE PHOTOS. Holy smokes! I love when races do that. They aren’t the highest resolution, but I do appreciate having some on the course images, even if I look constipated in most of the them. Seriously, I am all concentration when I run apparently.
- Small race (for me this is a pro) of about 500 marathoners
- Nice shirt and medal – the medal was solid!
- Beautiful course that took us across two bridges – including going across the world’s longest wooden foot bridge!
- 8am start time
- A free beer at the end
- Welcoming community and enthusiastic neighborhoods
- Free race photos
- Food at almost every aid station (which were every two miles) – bananas, oranges, candy, etc. And they had Gu gels, too.
- They offer a 5K on the Saturday if you wish to also do a shakeout run
- Race day emergency packet pick up available
- Excellent communication from the organisers
- Candy in our race packets (hey, sometimes it’s the small things!)
- Overall just a great, well organized event. Thank you for doing an excellent job. I had a great time.
- Shirts were unisex, and I really love when I get a nice ladies cut shirt
- Ran out of food at the end! The food would have been nice (choice of a meal from four different food trucks) if there was any left for the later finishers.
- Hilly course was challenging
- A relay was also run on the marathon course. I hate being 20 miles into a marathon and hating my life decisions only to have someone on fresh legs who just started sprint by me looking fresh as a daisy. LOL The hate is very real in that scenario, and I know I’m not the only one!
Considering this was the second year for the race, I thought it was really well done. They are still working on tweaking a few things, and thankfully the course measured the full 26.2 mi this year (it was a little short last year). I had a great time and would encourage anyone who wants to run a race the first weekend of March – or run a race in Tennessee – to consider Chattanooga as a great half or full marathon option. My legs didn’t hurt nearly as bad as they did after Bermuda, and this was a far hillier course.
As a bonus for me, on the flight out of Chattanooga, I sat next to someone from the area (he ran the marathon and we even chatted for a few minutes on the course when he passed me on the hill at mile 11) who will be running Paris and Richmond this year. So I am very happy to try and connect with yet another Maniac and runner at other places in 2017. Tim, I’ll see you in Paris, my friend!