Monday, January 30, 2012

The Race Report: Callaway Gardens Half Marathon

I signed up for the Callaway Gardens Half Marathon way back in like, early November. I had a few weeks of semi-seriousness under my belt and knew once I put the money into the race, I'd kick it up a notch. I remember signing up and just thinking, "Okay! This is it! Here goes... well, nothing." And all of a sudden... it was here!

Thursday I headed out for one last run, a quick 5K. Afterward, I headed to DePalma's, a Italian place down the road. I had a gift card from Christmas to use and figured that was the perfect opportunity to pig out! Mmmm... a little awkward, being the only one in the whole restaurant that was there by yourself. Normally I don't mind, but I was a little self-conscious that day!

Tri-color penne & garlic bread. Deeeelish.
The weekend started amazingly productive - Friday night, I finished the bench, did my taxes, packed for the weekend, cleaned the whole house, and put away all my laundry. Surely a sign of good things to come? I also made one of those litte chip holders so I could use my Nike+ chip with my new shoes (I figured for less than $3 I could make my own and ran out of time anyway for ordering it off Amazon).

Saturday morning, however, was rough - all I wanted to do was sleep past 8 am! I was up at 8:30, finished packing and getting ready. I went out to drop off Molly at the boarding place where she prompted to pull me away just as I was putting my phone on the counter - yep, picture it. Needless to say, my phone screen was then beyond shattered and virtually unusable, as it wouldn't even register a finger swipe to unlock it. So off I went to the phone repair store, replaced the screen, prayed this was not a sign of things to come, and headed down to Atlanta.
I went down with Heather (who was running her first 5K ever!) and Katherine (a very, very experienced runner who was running the 5K with HP) on Saturday early afternoon. Callaway Gardens is in Pine Mountain, which is about an hour and a half southwest of Atlanta, almost near the Alabama border. It's an absolutely gorgeous area, full of pine trees and greenery, even in the dead of winter. I was excited, knowing that surely a race through a south Georgia botanical garden was going to be stunning.

We went straight to Callaway Gardens before the hotel so we could get checked into our races - there was just a giant circus tent set up. Having no idea what to expect, I thought  "Sweet! Semi-real expo!"... wrong. There were two or three vendors, in addition to the race check-in tables and chip distribution.
I did like, however, that the circus tent was decked out in twinkling lights!
Robin Lake at Callaway Gardens. Beautiful.
Get it? ;)
 After checking in to our races, we made way to LaGrange, where we were staying. Rooms on property were like $100, but we had ourselves a good deal at the Hampton Inn out in LaGrange. It was 16  miles or so from Callaway, but well worth our time, and really hardly a twenty-minute drive. After checking in around 5, we went to downtown LaGrange to find something for dinner. We found the adorable downtown area, typical small-town main street with some cute stores and restaurants. We at the Brickhouse Grille, super cute Applebees-esque restaurant with some delicious grub! Afterwards, we walked around downtown a little bit, found the main square and this gorgeous fountain.                                              
 And then... it was back to the hotel and nearly bed time! We settled in, got our race day outfits ready to go (you know you're girls when you bring 3 or 4 options!), and settled in for some reading (kind of) and got hooked on a Locked Up: Raw marathon (fascinating stuff!). We settled for bed around 10, with a bright 'n early alarm set for 5:45 am (and 6, for the real okay-it's-time-to-get-up call).

Race day! I guess I have a recent affinity for lime green - shoes, headphones, tshirt, back up socks...
As if I could forget!
Once we were up and going in the morning, I was a bundle of nerves. Got dressed silently, paced a little, sat some more... ate my breakfast peanut butter half-sandwich and banana and half a bag of my Jelly Belly sport beans. Around 6:30, we headed out to Callaway. It was bitterly cold this morning - somewhere around 37 degrees when we got out to the car! Brrr. The high was mid-60s that day, but we definintely weren't getting it that morning! We sat in the car in the heat for awhile and realized at 7:30 that we needed to let our bodies adapt to the cool weather before we all took off. Heather and Katherine's 5K began at 7:50 and my race kicked off at 8.
Heather and Katherine before heading out into the bitter cold.
Sorority sister and virtual running buddy. :)

All three of us!
 After warming up in the circus tent for a little, we headed out - I went out to see Heather and Katherine off for their race, and then headed back inside for a last few minutes of warmth and a few announcements from the race director. Fun fact #1: Callaway Gardens doesn't allow portapotties on property, so if you had to pee mid-race, you could either find a few bushes or wait until you found a building and hoped it was a restroom (they weren't marked).
Heather's ready to go! Go HP!
Getting started with the actual race so there's a point to this entry!:
- Mile 1: was definitely finding my groove and letting it sink it that I was actually on my way to doing what I set out to do in November. Holy crap, I'm here! I just let myself take it all in for awhile, looked around as I was runnning, couldn't decided if I was already warm or cold and if my feet were about to fall off yet (they were partially frozen).
- Mile 2: I finally got into what I felt like was a good pace and letting myself settle in. My feet were thawing out and I was getting into the mindset of getting ready for another good, long run.
Golf courses in the heart of Callaway Gardens. So pretty. This is around Mile 2... I didn't take any other pictures just so I could focus! Isn't it pretty?
- Mile 3-5: are really kind of blurry. They weren't anything special, but not terrible, and started going through some of the forests and real gardens in the whole park. The funny part was that Callaway does a Festival in Lights, so some of the wire angels and doves were still hanging in trees and we got to run through the huge drive-through wreath - maybe they keep this stuff up all year round! But it was strange running through a wreath at the end of January. Anyhow, these miles were pretty lackluster otherwise and nothing too special - aside from around mile 3 where we near the border of the park and people were parked on the side of the road cheering! It was around mile 5 (maybe 6), that a marathoner started chasing with me - he'd catch up and pass, then I'd catch up and pass, and back and forth. I learned that his pattern was running a mile, walking 30 seconds, running a mile and so on - so I played tag on and off with him through most of the 5-9 ranges. I later learned he had a name (Daniel) and was running his first full marathon ever.
- Mile 6: As forewarned by the RD, Mile 6 brought about a few hills ("it'll test ya, but it won't kill ya"). Sure enough, right around the beginning of mile 6, those rolling hills came in. I took it upon myself to take my first walk brake (proud I made it to 6!) and take in some Jelly Bellys and water at the aid station, and slowly made the trek up and down the hills. Whew! RD wasn't kidding.
- Mile 7-8: I had just hit the Mile 7 marker when the leading marathoner double-backed (holy cow!). I was smack in the middle of these rolling hills, just direly waiting for the turnaround - this is definitely where the run was hitting me. Marathoner after marathoner passed, and somewhere in the 7.75 range the first halfers were coming back, I knew I was almost there! The double-back was just about mile 8 and I beamed, knowing I was more than halfway there! Excitement!
- Mile 9-10: Again, nothing super special about these. Daniel and I started playing tag again - I had passed him for a bit just after mile 10 and he had finally caught up. We talked about running goals (mine? 2:20. His? Just to finish; "if you run so quick you can't enjoy it, what's the point?" Brilliant! Haha), running documentaries he watches before every race for inspiration, and how brutal those 6-9 mile hills were. And lo and behold, before I knew it, we were near the 11-mile marker.
- Miles 11-12:  It was around the 11 marker than my left hip actually started hurting - a new sensation, given that I was only used to my knees hurting before. Just after Mile 10, we turned off the roadway of the park to the walking/biking trails where it was a little more meant for 2 people running side-by-side instead of 4 or 5 across; I liked the thinner trails better, it allowed for a little more me time as I began to process the fact that I was almost done. Almost done, oh my god! Daniel and I met up again about Mile 12; I was just about at 2:08 and realized I was more than likely bound to making my 2:20 goal! We took off on a good pace, after I stopped for a few seconds to stretch and make sure my hips wouldn't kill me toward the end.
- Mile 13: I was there! About 12.8 or so, Katherine had run the back end of the trail to see where I was and meet up with me for my last stretch - her and Heather had been watching their watches, knowing what my goal was, and keeping a close eye out. Loved Katherine for coming back for me! We talked about her and Heather's 5K, did Heather make her goal (37:30 -- they did! 36:19), how was I feeling, and how freaking much farther did I have to go? ("Up the slight incline, down the hill, around the turn, you're there!" Coming down the incline, I told Katherine that once I was down the hill, I'd sprint to the finish (a solid 70 yards), in true soccer player fashion. And boy did I take off!

I'm in the lime - sprint to the finish.
Sprint to the finish, realized I did it - commence half-wheezing, half-crying! Heather came and found me, screamed that she was proud of me, where I continued to half-cry, half-wheeze in her arms. What a feeling! I DID IT! I walked maybe .7 miles of the whole thing, maybe, and I just finished my half marathon. Hells yes. Grabbed my medal, stopped crying, and headed to the circus tent for cookies and a banana. Times had started being printed, but it was such a cluster of chaos that I didn't really have the patience to wait - as I said, I'd wait in suspense until they posted times. My phone read 2:20:14 - I knew I was close by chip time, if I had made my 2:20 goal, I knew it'd be cutting it close.

I did it! Happy half-marathoner!
I stretched for a little bit (hips were still sore), and got excited when I remembered our IHOP plan - oh yes! Straight to the pancake house for a feast, yes please.                                      
Breakfast of champi -- wait, half-marathoners! Yum.
And then we drove back to Atlanta and called it a weekend (only after cheering on Heather at kickball). I made my way back to Athens, picked up the puppy dog from the boarder's, and hit the couch for the evening - perfect.

Race results posted today and I am excited to say I MADE MY GOAL! 
Read that, oh yes! 2:19:52 - told you I'd cut it close! 8 seconds to spare, but I made that goal! So excited! I finished 278th overall of 423, which I would consider not too shabby! Holy moly - I did it. I'm a half-marathoner, I did my race, I ran 95% of it, I finished strong, I made my goal, I did it. I did it. Those words are so great to see in print and to be able to say aloud: "I did it."

On to the next one. Yep, I'm hooked.


  1. I am so excited for you, and you're absolutely right- it is an addiction :)

    1. Thanks lady! :) Yep, already scouring for some local-ish races, since they're cheaper! Haha.

  2. I'm still SO excited about your race. Many more to come! Now you've been bitten by the bug, just like me. ha.

    (good thing I didn't give any pre-race eating advice, because with no porta-potties, you would have had a problem!)

    1. I'm STILL so excited too! And yes, the bug is definitely now full-fledged. I think I'm okay with that. My wallet might not be.

      (and yes, re: port potties) :)

  3. Congratulations on your first half marathon! And you rocked that time!! Way to go!

    I found your blog through Curlyrunnerbug Moves In from her Tinkerbell half race report :)

    1. Thanks Nicole! And I'm glad you found me -- definitely looking to connect with more runners through this!

      I just followed you as well. :)