So, the official name of this race is the Nashville Marathon and 1/2 Marathon Presented by Hard Rock Cafe Supporting United Way. Whaa?
Anyway. I signed up for this race awhile back as a gesture of motivation for my friend, Amanda, who would be running it as her first half. She and her boyfriend, Garrett, are moving to Boulder because she accepted a faculty position at the University of Colorado and starts in January. She’s incredibly intelligent and conducts climate change research all over the world. I always tell people Amanda will win a Nobel Prize one day, and I sincerely mean that. So this race would serve as a farewell to the Music City for her.
I left work early Friday and drove down in time to eat dinner and do the pre-race necessities. There wasn’t any kind of expo to speak of. Just a packet pickup at Nashville Running Company, an East Nashville running store that wasn’t too far from Amanda and Garrett’s house. It was a little disappointing because I wanted Amanda to have the full race experience with free Tide samples and a photo op with Meb Keflezighi. This was efficient, though. We were in and out with our shirts and bibs in just a few minutes. The only swag in the bag was a little packet of Vitamin C powder.
We grabbed a bite and headed back to the homestead to
watch crap TV turn in early. At this point, I still hadn’t mentally prepared for the race. Usually, I put my geography obsession to good use and pore over the course map to see what landmarks I’ll pass and where the hills are going to slow me down. At 10:00 pm Friday night, I had to look online to see what time the race actually started the next morning. Good planning, huh?
Since Nashville is on Central Time, getting up at 5:30 wasn’t a big deal. I was actually up at 5:00. I macked on a banana and a protein bar before we drove downtown for the race.
It wasn’t freezing, but it wasn’t warm, either. My cold-weather clothing decision is usually determined by whether I’ll be running in temperatures above or below 40 degrees. Various sources called for anywhere between 38 and 41 degrees at the start of the race, so I opted for shorts and a long-sleeve shirt. We arrived about 40 minutes early and stayed in the warm car until it was time to walk to the start line.
It was a small race, which was surprising given that the course shut down several major roads in downtown Nashville. And the beginning of the race was weird. No one was lining up. No one was even approaching the start line. After three PA announcements that we should go ahead and prepare for the start, people shuffled around a little, though there was no pre-race jockeying for position. I looked around to see the 2:00 pace group about 20 yards behind me and wide-open spaces ahead. Huh? Alright, I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just going to run.
There was no national anthem (tsk, tsk), but there was an official start. I had bothered to look at the course map long enough to know that the first two miles were a gradual incline, so I figured I would just run comfortably and not push it. I didn’t really have any expectations for this race.
We headed out of downtown and around a weird statue of dancing naked people in the middle of a roundabout before running down part of Music Row. This part of the race was really fun. I’d seen this part of Nashville before, but there’s something special about seeing it on foot. Music Row is where all the recording studios and businesses are located. After we hit a cross street, the very, very few marathoners kept going straight while we 13.1ers turned and ran back down a parallel street between even more studios. It didn’t feel like we were running up an incline. A quick glance at my watch told me I ran the first mile in 9:08 and the second in 9:00 flat. Good times for not really having any kind of game plan.
We then turned into an area of Nashville known as The Gulch. I won’t get into a debate about the merits and drawbacks of the phenomenon, but holy gentrification, Batman. It seems like every rundown, broken building in Nashville has been turned into a gourmet cheddar biscuit shop or an independent Armenian record store. The Gulch was a mixture of new construction, high-rise condos and these kinds of buildings. It was fun, and I imagined T. Swift was cheering us on from her overlord apartment.
The only plan I had for this race was to take my walk breaks at miles 4, 8 and 12. Mile 4 came and I took a 45-second walk. I ran the previous two miles at an 8:30 pace, so I was cognizant not to ruin that time by taking too long of a walk break. We went up and around the Farmer’s Market and the State Capitol, and then we were finally crossing the Cumberland River on a loooooooong downhill bridge. I was enjoying the decline until I remembered that this part of the race was an out-and-back. Crap. We were going to have to run back up this bridge near the end.
We ran around LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans, and through an industrial part of town toward Shelby Bottoms, which was less than a mile from Amanda’s house. It was here that I got to see the leaders of the race heading back toward the finish. I kid you not, there was an eleventeen-year old in like 5th place. Good for you, Tommy.
I walked at mile 8 and ate some gel. The turnaround point was just past mile 9, so I kept an eye out for Amanda as I ran back toward the finish line. Right before mile 10, she ran by me, smiling. We high-fived and I’m pretty sure I said something really inspirational, like “Go, Amanda.” I was getting tired at this point, and I adjusted my plan to take a little walk break at the 10-mile marker. There were two people I’d been running near the entire race – White Shirt Lady and Sleeveless Guy. I really need to work on these names. WSL was walking, too, and I suspected we were probably secret race friends. Throughout the race, I would catch Sleeveless Guy, pass him and then somehow end up behind him again. We were near each other again as we ran around the stadium once more (the opposite side this time) and back toward that loooooooooong (now) uphill bridge. But I had slowed considerably. So much so that, as I was taking a cheat walk on this incline, the 2:00 pacing group caught me. Is there anything more discouraging during a race than being passed by a pacing group?
The pace group leader was yelling out encouragements to his fold, telling them there was just a little over a mile to go. An older man ran near the front of the group, and when we neared the middle of the bridge, I could hear some people cheering for him. His children, who looked like they were in their 20s, were screaming their heads off, and you could tell he was getting emotional. It was really touching. It was also at this point that I decided this guy wasn’t going to beat me.
I picked up the pace, ran ahead of the group and crossed mile 12 running fast into downtown. I turned and ran up a hill, and then started a long, steep incline toward the finish. I knew that the last 3/4 mile of the race was all downhill, so I decided to leave what I had out there. The final turn onto Broadway was right before mile 13, and when I rounded the final corner, the finish line was in sight. There was a guy around my age running a couple steps in front of me. Not today, Pedro. I sped past him and heard the announcer call my name for the first time ever in a race.
Official finish time: 1:57:26
It wasn’t a PR, but I’ll take it!
I received my medal and made my way over to the post-race refreshments to grab something to drink before running back up the course to watch Amanda finish. I spotted her almost as soon as she turned the corner. She looked awesome and still had a spring in her step. I yelled out to her and ran to the finish as she glided across the line. She killed it.
We drank some Gatorade (once the volunteers located some powdered mix) and tried to find a banana as we checked our times. I saw WSL and thanked her for pacing me. Turns out, I was pacing her, too. I also found Sleeveless Guy and gave him a similar pat on the back. As it happened, he was really touched by my gesture because he’d had quadruple bypass surgery at some point earlier in his life and was glad he could help someone.
All in all, it was a fun event. I’m so proud of Amanda for not only finishing the race, but also enjoying the run.
And that’s what it’s all about, right?
Keep running, friends.