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Race Report: Susie Kelly’s Publix Half Marathon

RACE REPORT: GA PUBLIX HALF MARATHON

Race: GA Publix Half Marathon 13.1 miles

Finish Time: 1:35:29

AG Place (F25-29): 6th/429

Overall Female: 23rd/3201

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Long before I toed the line of this race, I had mentally concluded my 2014-2015 running season. In the preceding months, I successfully knocked through the 1:40 half marathon wall that confronted me for years, and subsequently tore through the 1:35 (literal) milestone a few weeks later. I logged due time in the hurt locker and exceeded my goals for the season. I even crafted an elegant recap chronicling my winter achievements as a bookend to the running season in anticipation of triathlon season. My suffering was done till spring! Having patted myself on the back, I greatly looked forward to casually sauntering through the notoriously hilly Publix course at a splendidly comfortable conversational pace. Coach, however, had alternative plans for me.

Meanwhile, a lesser-known saga ensued a couple weeks prior to the race. A feeling of déjà vu settled in, as the symptoms of anemia I felt leading up to last year’s race reemerged. My uber low blood counts required high doses of iron supplements—with the associated GI side effects that contributed to the episode now dubiously referred to amongst friends as “pulling a Susie”. Absolutely unwilling to relive the misfortune of Publix 2014, I behaved like a typical healthcare worker and ignored the problem, refusing to take iron (but gleefully increasing my dietary steak). The Saturday before Publix, I successfully completed a 14-mile training run (granted, slower than prescribed) without passing out on the side of the road, so I forged ahead with the plan.

While over the winter I admittedly took significant “creative liberties” with my training “guideline”, as I called it (including a semi-intentional two week swimming hiatus—sorry, Coach!), I refocused in March and followed my plan to the T in the weeks leading up to this race. I also experimented with taking protein and amino acid supplements religiously after workouts to see if it improved recovery. I wanted to put amino acids to the real test and ride a century the day before Publix (and have an excuse to dog the race 🙂 ), but coach said no. “I was kinda hoping you would go for it” was all it took to adjust my attitude and get excited to pursue the ambitious 1:37 he planned for me. Oh the power of suggestion!

Race morning, I awoke to the rainy day the forecasters promised. While I tend to overdress (I have a certifiable phobia of cold from my four years in Boston), I decided to go with shorts and a running tank with arm warmers and compression socks. Maybe dressing like a running geek will motivate me to actually run fast. I ate my breakfast of champs – oatmeal with banana and peanut butter washed down with coffee. My sister and I walked to Marta where we were greeted by a friendly schizophrenic fellow who was convinced he was Ronald Regan. Kyan and Steve joined us on Marta, and together we braved Atlanta’s sometimes sketchy public transport system down to Centennial Olympic Park.

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After a quick photo at the ATC tent, I headed to the start with Christopher and Jason, creepily similar to last year’s race. We mingled with fellow ATCers, and before I knew it, we were off! Christopher and I ran the first few miles stride-for-stride. Knowing the first 5K is relatively easy, I ignored the 6:55 min/mile clip we were keeping (I targeted 7:15-7:20 average), hoping I could bank some time for the hills that loomed ahead. I reined it in for the following three miles and Christopher forged onward. At mile six, I convinced myself I had emptied the tank during the first 5K and would be forced into a shameful walk with my tail between my legs. I remembered feeling the same way at the Kiawah Half Marathon a few months prior (my current PR), as well as just about every other race I’ve done—so I tried to quiet my doubts (I believe my exact words to myself were, “Shut up Susie!”). I felt my cadence slow down and had to actively remind tell my legs to turn over.

At mile seven, I hit the relatively flat terrain of the Virginia Highlands, enabling my pace to dip <7 min/mile again, and allowing me to catch Christopher again. I anticipated my planned “recovery” during the dreaded 10th mile climb up Juniper Street that plagues far too many running races in Atlanta (can’t we run down Juniper Street some day?!). I refused to look at my pace and trotted up the hill, allowing myself to go as gosh-darn slow as I wanted! I glanced at the Garmin and was pleased to see that my perceived crawl clocked in <8 min/mile. Alright, I have a shot at this… Just 5K to go! I thought with much less enthusiasm than when I thought the same at Kiawah. I think I wanted to be so far from my goal that I’d have an excuse for a nice easy jog to the finish.

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Alas, I ran into Peter Gurd again near the same place he caught (and smoked by) me at the Hot Chocolate 15K. “So we meet again!” I announced. “You get this one!” he replied, and I continued forward. Now I focused more intently on my Garmin. <7:20 average. High cadence. Quick feet. <1:37 was the goal, and I was right on target. I allowed myself to slow down a bit on the inclines and tried to push it on the declines, but I couldn’t find much kick. I awaited the moment Christopher or Jim or Peter would catch me, but they never did. I could have used a rabbit to chase… I tried to pick up the pace at mile 11, but couldn’t break 7:20. Luckily, this is when I caught John Rutledge and Paul Link pushing a wheelchair-bound athlete as part of the Kyle Pease Foundation. I took the opportunity to chat with them rather than find another gear. I’ll save it for the last mile. When the watch stuck 12 miles, I hoped for a final push to the end, but found myself struggling to maintain that 7:20. I knew I was threatening a <1:35. C’mon! Just a little more! I couldn’t find any more speed. As I entered the finisher’s chute, a guy sprinted past me. After I crossed the finish (immediately after him), he turned around and thanked me for carrying him the last two miles. I wanted to make a snide remark back, but I refrained.

I collected my medal, having crossed the finish at 1:35:29—a full 91 seconds faster than my goal and a mere 34 seconds away from a PR (on a much tougher course). For the first time, I approached a race with the maturity and intelligence of an experienced runner and paced very well, especially without the crutch of a specific race plan that I had last year (Coach correctly felt this would “hold me back”). While I felt spent at the end of the race and coughed a bit, I did not feel as wasted as when I stumbled across the line at Kiawah, Atlanta Thanksgiving nor the Atlanta 10-miler earlier in the season. So perhaps I could have shaved off that 34 seconds (or more), had I found another gear. If I had the hunger for it. I did eventually get my blood tested, and I’ll know soon whether I’m actually anemic (which would be kinda impressive), or if the symptoms I felt were simply taper-troubles… Either way, I’m excited to carry my off-season running success into triathlon season!