Subtitle: So *This* Is What It’s Like To Be Fast
I’m prefacing this post by saying that this was always meant to be a fun race. It was the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll in my hometown and my whole family signed up to run. As a post-Ironman event, I had no intention of doing any specific training. I didn’t even bother with a goals post. The only thing I had in my head was that I couldn’t totally embarrass myself. I was pretty involved in the running community throughout high school and — as I haven’t raced in Savannah in a long time — felt like I had something to prove. So the general plan was to go out, run a few familiar streets, watch my family finish and kick off my offseason. Fortunately, the day went a little bit better than expected.
I was home for a few days ahead of time thanks to temporary funemployment, so I had the chance to see the build-up to the race as the Competitor crew and 23,000 runners rolled into town. There certainly was a lot of buzz — the race sold out in August, hotels were gone last spring and the city estimated that the race could have a larger economic impact than St. Patrick’s Day (second only to Boston in size). They had to hold the expo open for an extra hour because the traffic getting to the convention center was so bad. It was an exciting opportunity for little ol’ Savannah.
As it turns out, my sisters couldn’t come home from school to run and my dad had to leave town, so my mom and I were left to represent the Longs. We basically hadn’t given the race any thought until we visited the expo to pick up our packets on Friday. Expos are always good for building up excitement. I ran into the owner of our local Fleet Feet, who is 99 percent responsible for how much running has grown in Savannah and deserves equal credit for getting me back on the road after all my high school injuries. After a quick stop at the Nike booth (duh) we headed home for the afternoon.
The plan was to eat dinner and then head downtown to spend the night with some family friends who live right at the finish and less than a mile from the start. The Rock ‘n’ Roll folks did a great job of scaring people into thinking it’d be impossible to drive on race morning (huge exaggeration) and set up shuttles from all corners of the city to get people to and from the site. In any case, it certainly made for an easy, traffic-free race morning.
We spent the night on comfy couches and woke up at 6am to get dressed and ready. The weather was chilly and windy, so we both chose to wear capri tights, short-sleeved tops, ear warmers and long-sleeved throwaways. We jogged the quiet streets of downtown until we neared the start, where suddenly the energy of 23,000 people was palpable. This was my first “this is what it’s like to be fast” moment. I was in corral NUMBER ONE, suckaaaaas. My estimated finish time of 1:35 — which I was not expecting to match — got me a prime spot up front. Ever started a huge race ahead of everyone? It’s pretty cool. There were a lot of fast-looking people (and a lot of compression socks, something I’d never noticed at road races before).
This was playing at the start to set the mood:
And then we were off. The great thing about being up front was that I didn’t have to dodge anyone and it took only six seconds to cross the start line. They held each corral for a minute, but for number one it was gun-and-go. The sun was rising as we ran toward the Savannah Bridge — it was perfect.
Being in the first corral inevitably means you go out faster than intended. I hit the first mile marker with 6:50 on the clock. There was a lot of “oh shit!” going on around me. I haven’t seen a mile that started with “6” since March, so I figured I was in for an ugly race unless I reeled it in. But since I didn’t have a plan, I just did what I do best. I RAN.
The course was a little weird — it left downtown pretty quickly and headed out into some more industrial and less-than-glamorous parts of the city. While it wasn’t what I’d showcase, I’ll give the people out in those neighborhoods (which I’d certainly never seen) a lot of credit. They were out on their porches cheering and had the most excited water stops. Far and away the best miles were in the middle (7-9 ish) when we ran back into the historic district and down Liberty St., where the crowds were several people deep and screaming loudly. It was very exciting.
Anyway, I was wearing my Garmin but had only the total time and distance on the screen. I wasn’t really paying attention to the mile splits and had only a vague sense of pace after that first mile. I was just running. And I felt great. I knew I was hauling and still had this tiny fear that I’d totally blow up with a few miles to go, but I didn’t care. I was passing people I’d been running with or just behind for much of the race and still feeling strong.
Around mile 9, I realized I was going to be close to a PR for my 10-mile distance, previously set at the 2010 GW Parkway race. If I could do that (and not die) I knew I would be on track to PR my half too. So I just kept running. I saw a few people I knew drinking mimosas outside their houses along the way and waved. At one point we were hit with the really strong scent of weed (way to be, Savannah) and everyone around me was like I SMELL THAT!
Miles 11 to 13 were awesome but hard because it was one long straightaway. But at that point I knew I was on the home stretch and probably going to blow my National Half performance out of the water. By how much I wasn’t sure, so at mile 12 I kicked and held on for dear life, right up until that last right turn to the finish at Forsyth Park. I saw the clock hit 1:30:00 with just a few meters left to go — DAMN — but knew I’d get there and be incredibly happy with the final result anyway. I heard my name — “Emily Long from Washington, DC” — fist-pumped the clock and nearly died of shock.
1:30:22?!? Hello, 5:32 PR!
So my initial reaction was that the execution for this race totally sucked. And by that I mean that there was no execution at all. I ran it like a 5K — I went out hard and just hung on. I didn’t go in with a plan other than to run, and I reverted to my pre-2010 habit of doing stupid things such as not pacing myself, not eating or drinking, not putting into practice what I’ve picked up in recent training and racing. But it worked for me. It always has. So much of triathlon is about smart planning and execution (and adapting quickly when it all goes to hell) and it actually felt really good not to stress over the minute-by-minute and mile-by-mile details and JUST RUN.
And as it turns out, I’m pretty good at “just” running. I thought my execution was a disaster, but in reality it was beautiful.
Perhaps even more perfect than my Boston pacing? When I’m not thinking about it, not getting inside my own head, not trying to follow a plan to the letter, I have the intuitive ability to get it done. Again, I hadn’t seen a mile starting with “6” since well before IM training began, and on Saturday I ran 12 of them. I PR’d my 10-mile by more than a minute. I negative split each section of the race. I felt amazing. A little part of me was starting to believe that maybe I’m not such a runner after all (see: blowing up on the run at nearly every tri) and I’ve been perpetually frustrated at the 9:15 Z2 pace that I’ve been stuck with for so long. I needed this to see that my speed isn’t gone forever, that I can still call myself a runner first and foremost, that I deserved that corral seeding, that I should have higher goals to hit. And I definitely proved myself among my hometown crowd. CHECK.
So this is what it’s like to be fast…
I was planning to run Philly in a few weeks — the half at least — but I think this was the perfect way to end a great season. With a kickass performance and shiny new PR and 17th woman overall (hello what?), I can go into the winter content and ready to just enjoy bike time and casual runs and some fun gym classes/strength training.
After the finish, I ran back to our friends’ house to grab extra layers and then headed to the finish to watch my mom come in. She had back surgery almost exactly a year ago and has been working hard to rehab and get back on the road and she totally killed her race in 2:07. I’m so proud of her, and it was fun to watch her cross the finish line for a change after all the times she’s sherpa’d for me.
We’re cute. Mom was a high school track star and record holder, running is clearly in my genes.
It was really chilly thanks to the wind, so our post-race celebration was short-lived. Plus I had to get back on the road to DC. Note to self: driving nearly 9 hours after a tough half-marathon isn’t ideal. I wish we could have stuck around for Carolina Liar, the headliner band set up to play in the park, but maybe next year.
All in all, this was fantastic for Savannah. The logistics were great, the bands along the course were a lot of fun, the swag was lovely and both runners and organizers had positive responses to the whole experience. They’re talking about expanding the field next year. A huge congrats to Robert and the Fleet Feet crew for working so hard to build the kind of community that supports a race of this caliber. If you’re a runner and/or have any interest in visiting Savannah, I highly recommend it. We’ll host, y’all!